- The United States Postal Service isn’t doing well, both financially and in terms of employees’ exposure to the novel coronavirus.
- Fifty-one USPS employees had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday, and 2,000 of its roughly 500,000 employees are in quarantine.
- Financially, lawmakers warned this week that plummeting mail volumes could force the USPS to shut down by June without immediate financial help.
- The USPS is included in the $US2 trillion stimulus bill that President Trump signed on Friday, but the city carriers’ union called the $US10 billion provision for the service “woefully inadequate.”
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The US Postal Service is in crisis, with lawmakers warning that plunging mail volumes could shut it down by June without “urgent” financial help – threatening everything from critical medicine deliveries and vote by mail to a third of Amazon orders.
But the crisis is far more than financial. The National Association of Letter Carriers, the union representing USPS city carriers, said 51 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 Thursday announced the 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.”
As of this writing, there have been more than 576,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 26,400 deaths worldwide. On Thursday, the US passed Italy and China for most confirmed cases in the world.
The USPS recorded having 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 cases because of limited testing, nor do they immediately convey the infectiousness of the disease – which has a snowball effect that one expert broke down, explaining how one person could end up infecting 59,000.
Postal employees, like others considered essential – arguably, in some cases – are also still at work, handling packages and touching surfaces where the coronavirus can live for up to several days.
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 bill that would give the service $US25 billion in emergency funding, eliminate its current debt, and require it to prioritise medical deliveries.
The union said Friday that Congress must provide “at least $US25 billion” to the USPS “to both protect the public health and to stabilise our economy,” but the $US2 trillion stimulus bill signed by President Trump on Friday includes only $US10 billion to the Postal Service.
The bill passed in the Senate with the language that the USPS could prioritise 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 $US10 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 $US3.9 billion in fiscal year 2018, according to a report from the Task Force on the United States Postal System, and lost $US62.4 billion between 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 union called the $US10 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 $US2 trillion stimulus legislation that is about to be adopted did so little to help.”