The US Postal Service is in crisis, with lawmakers warning that plunging mail volumescould shut it downby June without “urgent” financial help — threatening everything from critical medicine deliveries and vote by mail toa third of Amazon orders.
But the crisis is far more than financial. The National Association of Letter Carriers, the union representing USPS city carriers,said51 USPS employees had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. On top of that, nearly 2,000 were in quarantine.
“As the number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases have increased throughout the general public, so too have been the number of postal employees who have tested positive,” a statement from the union’s president, Fredric Rolando, read. “About half of the postal employees are quarantined by order of public health officials and half have chosen to self-quarantine.”
The union on Thursdayannouncedthe coronavirus-related death of New York City carrier Rakkhon Kim, age 50.
About 150 employees have returned from quarantine, the statement said. “Eligible” workers ordered to quarantine by health officials are being paid administrative leave during the quarantine, while those who choose to quarantine themselves must take sick leave.
“Employees who do not feel safe working in the facility may be allowed to take emergency annual leave or leave without pay, to the extent feasible,” the statement quoted the USPS as saying. “The Postal Service will follow a liberal leave usage policy for employees.”
The USPSrecordedhaving just under 497,000 employees in 2019 compared to the 2,000 in quarantine, meaning numbers are relatively low. But the numbers worldwide don’t accurately reflect the exact number of casesbecause of limited testing, nor do they immediately convey the infectiousness of the disease — which has a snowball effect that one expertbroke down, explaining how one person could end up infecting 59,000.
The USPS, the union said, has agreed to certain provisions during the pandemic, including providing daily supplies for employees to clean office items and vehicles; providing hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies for postal carriers; and providing masks and protective gloves for any employee who requests them.
“We have received almost 3,000 reports from all over the country regarding these issues,” the union statement said. “In some places, all of these things are being done. However, in too many places they are not.
“In the places where there are not enough supplies, or none at all, it is generally due to the overall shortage of these items throughout the country. USPS has been working to acquire more items, even authorizing local managers to purchase them if they could be found.”
Carriers are also being advised to knock instead of ringing doorbells, keep a safe distance from others, and use an alternative method for signed deliveries — all while the USPS itself fights to stay alive.
Two US representatives warned this week that the USPS could shut down in three months without financial help,introducing a billthat would give the service $25 billion in emergency funding, eliminate its current debt, and require it to prioritize medical deliveries.
The union said Friday that Congress must provide “at least $25 billion” to the USPS “to both protect the public health and to stabilize our economy,” but the$2 trillion stimulus billsigned by President Trumpon Fridayincludes only $10 billion to the Postal Service.
The billpassed in the Senatewith thelanguagethat the USPS could prioritize medical deliveries, and that “if the Postal Service determines that, due to the COVID-19 emergency, the Postal Service will not be able to fund operating expenses without borrowing money,” the USPS would be allowed to borrow up to $10 billion from the Treasury “to be used for such operating expenses” and “which may not be used to pay any outstanding debt of the Postal Service.”
The USPS lost $3.9 billion in fiscal year 2018,according to a reportfrom the Task Force on the United States Postal System, andlost $62.4 billionbetween fiscal years 2007 and 2016. The report said that as the service’s financial condition “continues to deteriorate,” it’s expected to “lose tens of billions of dollars over the next decade” — if it makes it that far.
The unioncalledthe $10 billion in the stimulus package “woefully inadequate,” considering that the USPS’ services “are needed more than ever.”
“Right now we are delivering notices for the decennial census, CDC pamphlets for households, and a large volume of e-commerce products at a time when retail options are limited,” a statement said. “Soon we will likely handle the distribution of Treasury stimulus checks, home virus testing kits and a surge of absentee ballots later this year.
“In view [of] the Postal Service’s crucial role, it is all the more disappointing and discouraging that the $2 trillion stimulus legislation that is about to be adopted did so little to help.”