CORONAVIRUS | VACCINE MANDATES

Why are US Postal workers not required to get vaccinated?

US Postal Service employees may have to comply with the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate, just not the one for federal employees. What does that mean?

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Why are US Postal workers not required to get vaccinated?
SCOTT OLSON AFP

Although the United States Postal Service is part of the US government, it is also a private entity so its employees do not fall under President Biden’s vaccine mandate for federal employees announced in September. However, the US Postal Service is one of the largest employers in the US so its employees will fall under the administration’s mandate for companies with over 100 employees.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is set to announce an emergency temporary standard for private companies in the coming weeks. Until then the US Postal Service is awaiting guidance on that new rule to see how it will move forward to comply.

The US Post Service an independent agency

The US Constitution explicitly establishes the existence of the US Postal Service, but although its employees are federal employees under the executive branch of the government the agency itself operates on a semi-corporate status. The US Postal Service gets its financing separate from tax dollars through the sale of stamps and service fees.

When President Biden announced his vaccine mandate for federal employees without a test exemption, there was initially some confusion over a tweet by Washington Post reporter Jacob Bogage that was later corrected. Although postal workers don’t fall under the mandate for federal workers the US Postal Service is the third largest employer in the US after Walmart and Amazon with a workforce of around 600,000.

US Postal workers may need to get vaccinated or face weekly testing

Due to the size of the US Postal Service, the agency will have to comply with the guidelines on emergency rule that are set forth by OSHA, which have yet to be released, for larger private sector companies. The administration’s mandate calls for all companies with 100 employees or more to require their workers to get vaccinated or provide a weekly negative covid-19 test result. The US Postal Service released a statement with regards to its own situation:

“Because the Postal Service is an independent federal agency that operates under a private sector collective bargaining model, modifications to working conditions are mandatory subjects of bargaining,” the statement read. Adding “we are working closely with our union leadership so that once OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination Emergency Temporary Standard is issued we can move quickly to determine its applicability to our employees and how best to implement.”

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) for their part in response to President Biden’s vaccine mandate said in a press release “Until this emergency rule is developed, the APWU will not know if it applies to Postal Service employees. Once the emergency rule is released it will be reviewed and discussed with our attorneys and additional information on how it applies will be released."

Will US Postal Service employees have to get vaccinated?

When OSHA sets out its guidance on emergency temporary standard for the vaccine mandate it is sure to come under legal assault. How that will play out in the courts has yet to be seen. The Supreme Court has a history of upholding vaccine mandates for over 100 years, but this will test OSHA’s authority to do so.

Jamal Greene, a constitutional law professor at Columbia University, speaking on MSNBC’s the Rachel Maddow Show about the issue of the OSHA mandate “the [Occupational Safety and Health Act] statute is designed for the government to be able to regulate workplace safety. This seems to me to be quite clearly within the mandate of the agency.”

Mr Greene pointed out that the mandate is not a vaccine requirement. It strongly encourages employers to get their employees vaccinated, but they have an alternative and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act exemptions will apply.

When announcing the mandate, President Biden said that those employees that aren’t vaccinated would be required to provide weekly proof of a negative covid-19 test result. This gives employees an opt out from getting the vaccine. Furthermore, this could get around the obligation of private companies to make “reasonable accommodations” for workers who ask for a medical exemption or claim a “sincerely held” religious belief exemption.