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Vaccine Mandate Still a Possibility for the Postal Service

The Postal Service, meanwhile, has begun delivering COVID-19 rapid tests to Americans' homes. It will not do the same for masks.

The U.S. Postal Service is still keeping its options open for a COVID-19 vaccine mandate, saying on Wednesday it is not ruling out a requirement for its more than 600,000 employees. 

USPS was originally subject to a Biden administration mandate for large employers, but the Supreme Court struck down that rule earlier this month. The Labor Department withdrew the rule “as an enforceable emergency temporary standard” this week, meaning the Postal Service is not currently on the hook for enforcing the requirement. While the mandate is no longer pending in court, it remains active through the regulatory process. Labor said even though the mandate is no longer immediately enforceable, it remains active as a proposed rule

“The Postal Service continues to review and evaluate OSHA’s ongoing rulemaking process, and will wait until that process is concluded before determining the appropriate next steps,” said Darlene Casey, a USPS spokeswoman. 

Before it was struck down, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration had made clear its rule—which largely affected private sector employers with more than 100 workers—applied to USPS. Postal management had sought a 120-day exemption from the mandate so it would no longer be in its peak season when "many employees" opt to leave as a result and to give the agency more time to negotiate with its unions. It warned OSHA that immediate implementation could have a “catastrophic” impact on its operations. The Postal Service had said it would fully comply with the mandate after the 120-day period if the rule survived in court.

Instead, the Supreme Court’s majority said public health fell “outside of OSHA’s sphere of expertise” and that COVID-19 was not a workplace-specific issue. While the top court kicked the case back down to a lower level, the Biden administration rendered it moot by withdrawing the immediately enforceable part of the rule altogether. 

The Biden administration suffered another setback in court last week when a district court in Texas placed a nationwide injunction on President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees. USPS workers were not subject to that executive order. While enforcement of that mandate is paused indefinitely, 98% of the non-postal federal workforce had already come into compliance with it. The Biden administration is currently seeking an appeal of the injunction and at least one agency—the Veterans Affairs Department—is still enforcing a mandate on most of its workers.   

USPS, like the rest of the nation, has experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases from the omicron variant and thousands of workers are sick or quarantining each day. Still, the agency oversaw a largely successful holiday period and continues to ramp up its delivery of COVID-19 rapid tests on behalf of the administration. The Health and Human Services Department is reimbursing USPS for its costs, but the Postal Service has declined to disclose the terms of that arrangement. The mailing agency has kept on thousands of temporary staff to support the effort and is using its own facilities to stage the shipments. Tens of millions of tests have already gone out, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said on Wednesday. 

Zients added the administration opted against using USPS to distribute 400 million N95 masks from the National Stockpile because its alternative approach—sending them to pharmacies and other locations to give to customers for free—is quicker. The masks have already reached many facilities and Americans are picking them up. 

“We just determined that the fastest way to get masks out was through the channels that we use for vaccines, including community health centers and local pharmacies,” Zients said.