Bebeto Matthews / AP

Postal Service Takes Wait-and-See Approach on COVID-19 Vaccine Mandates

USPS may soon have to set up widespread testing for unvaccinated staff, but agency officials do not yet know how many employees have received shots.

The U.S. Postal Service is not committing to implementing any COVID-19 vaccine mandate—full or partial—for its workforce, with an agency spokesman saying officials will first need to see the fine print of new requirements President Biden has issued. 

Biden’s executive order mandating the vaccines for the federal workforce took a somewhat narrow definition of agencies that carved out USPS, which employs more than 640,000 people. The president on Thursday also announced the Labor Department would put forward a rule directing all employers with more than 100 workers to require their staff to either be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID-19 testing. USPS said on Friday it was still determining whether the rule would apply to the agency.

“The COVID-19 vaccination requirements included in the White House executive order issued on September 9, 2021 for federal employees do not apply to the Postal Service,” said Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman. “Regarding other vaccination rules expected to be issued by the federal government, the Postal Service has no comment until those rules are issued and we have had a chance to review them.” 

Providing testing for unvaccinated employees could prove an onerous task for the Postal Service, which has a workforce spread across 34,000 facilities. USPS was not subject to Biden’s previous mandate for the federal workforce—which required employees to either be vaccinated or receive regular tests—meaning the mailing agency would be starting from scratch in implementing testing infrastructure. Additionally, USPS does not know who among its workforce is already vaccinated. 

“We do not track that,” Partenheimer said, adding the Postal Service is encouraging all employees who wish to get vaccinated to do so. In a recent message to employees, postal management told staff that widespread vaccination for COVID-19 is a “critical tool to help stop the spread of the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

The American Postal Workers Union, which represents more than 200,000 USPS employees, previously denounced vaccine mandates and said any issues related to the inoculations or testing must be negotiated with the union. 

“Maintaining the health and safety of our members is of paramount importance,” APWU stated. “While the APWU leadership continues to encourage postal workers to voluntarily get vaccinated, it is not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccinations for the employees we represent.”

After briefly allowing unvaccinated employees to not wear masks, USPS last month once again instituted a policy requiring the face coverings. The Postal Service is providing surgical masks to those who request one. 

Since the pandemic began, about one-in-10 postal employees, or 64,000 workers, have contracted COVID-19. USPS employees have taken 6.7 million hours of time off authorized under a COVID-19 relief bill that allowed federal employees to spend up to 15 weeks on paid leave to deal with issues related to the pandemic.