RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Postal problems and mask mandate changes - 05/17/2021
Our postman refuses to wear a mask in the building even though it is policy and a NYS mandate. Whe...
Posted: Monday, May 17, 2021 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

Our postman refuses to wear a mask in the building even though it is policy and a NYS mandate. When asked to, he refuses and because of that, now delivers the mail by yelling "mail" into our building bookdrop and drops the mail inside. If no one hears him, we miss our opportunity to give him outgoing mail, which he told us to just drop in a mailbox down the street. Yesterday he placed two very heavy boxes in the vestibule without us knowing.

I did call the post office and the postmaster stated that he can only ask him to wear one, but he can't force him to. Am I missing something? What is the legal obligation of the mail carrier? And why doesn't he have to follow the rules of the establishments he is entering? It is now getting to the point where it is disrupting our mail service. Do I have a leg to stand on here?

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

I am expediting the answer to this question in light of the new guidance issued by the CDC on 5/13 (stating that people two weeks past their final vaccination can relax on wearing masks)[1], because I foresee more situations like this are going to arise.[2]

The short answer to the member's question is: yes, your mail carrier should provide service in a manner compliant with USPS delivery standards, while following the requirements of current executive orders and your library's safety plan.

Further, based on the delivery standards in various postal handbooks,[3]  I think you indeed may have "a leg to stand on" in pressing the matter.

That said, when it comes to contract service providers or vendors--even the USPS--refusing to abide by your library's policy and, instead, altering a long-established mode of service, the only recourse (unless there is a service contract in play[4]) is to do what you have done: take up the issue with their employer.

So, what more can the member do?

This question gave me a chance to do a little digging, and I was not surprised to see that the USPS  has been dealing with this type of issue for a year now[5].

The pandemic has thrown curveball after curveball at the USPS.  This onslaught has resulted in a series of temporary guidance and local union contract modifications being layered on top of the already complex web of regulations and union contracts governing the delivery of the US mail.

In other words, the "legs" supporting the case for safe and compliant delivery in this case might be tangled...making identifying the applicable rules tough, even for a local supervisor with the union contract at their fingertips. 

If you try to re-visit the issue with the local office, my suggestion is to approach the issue in a spirit of problem-solving, focused on how the library can get the "actual delivery" it needs, while keeping the postal carrier safe and the library compliant with its own policy.

The Postal Service, the United Postal Workers Union (the APWU[6]) and the National Association of Letter Carriers" (or "NALC") support the use of acknowledged safety measures. 

In December, 2020, the President of the NALC wrote to the union's membership[7]:

Today, over 14,000 postal employees are under quarantine from the virus. Well over 66,000 previously quarantined postal employees have been cleared and returned to work. About 5300 of the currently quarantined postal employees have tested positive for the virus, and another 1800 plus are presumed to be positive. Almost 16,000 postal employees who tested positive in the past have recovered and returned to work. Of all these numbers, about thirty percent are letter carriers. Sadly, 105 active postal employees have passed away from the virus, including 22 city letter carriers. We have been notified of 6 retired members who have passed away from the virus as well.

The heroic work you do each day delivering the nation’s mail is of great importance to our economy, to our health, and through the election season during a pandemic, to our democracy. As you continue this important work, please also continue to take every precaution regarding social distancing and face coverings. Please do all that you can to protect yourselves, your families, your coworkers, and your customers. Thank you for all that you do. God bless each of you and your families, please stay safe. [emphasis added]

So, what more can the member do here?

While acknowledging it could be a tangled web, working with a post office's local supervisor to truly confirm that the carrier cannot be required to follow your safety plan--in light of the statements by both USPS and the unions--might be a good first step.

I also want to take the opportunity to address the "5/13 development" (the new CDC guidance).

This pandemic isn't over, but we are clearly moving into a new phase...a new phase that will include the state, the various counties and municipalities, and OSHA (whose COVID guidance has been the go-to for workers across the country, including New York State), working to "catch up" with the new guidance from CDC.[8]

What can a library do right now to address this new CDC guidance?  We'll know soon enough...but (this is being finalized May 16, 2021) we don't know right now.

Until we have that new guidance, from a source you trust (confirmed by your county health department, straight from OSHA, or the NY Department of Health), here is a suggested template for addressing the new guidance:

Well, the CDC hit us with a curveball on 5/13 when it issued guidance stating that people at least 2 weeks past their final immunization shot can be without masks.

As of 5/16, the State of New York has not changed its mandates and guidance to incorporate this guideline.  In addition, OSHA, from which many draw their safety practices, has not changed its guidance yet.

Therefore: for now, the [NAME] Library's Safety Plan is unchanged.  Please continue to wear masks as before, regardless of vaccination status.  Further, please continue to use social distancing when required, and continue with our established wipe-down procedures.

We are all ready for a time when we can come to work with less restrictions.  We expect updated guidance from the State soon, and we will amend our Safety Plan when it is appropriate to do so.

Until then, please keep following the Plan, and carry on.

Thanks for all you do.

Overall, here is my suggested order of priorities for board and library employees working to provide critical services in this time of rapid change:

  • Safety first (including your safety)
  • Also: People first (starting with people's safety, which is both physical and emotional well-being)
  • Routinely check the applicable requirements (designate a person to do this daily)
  • As needed, update your Safety Plan
  • When enforcing a policy, to the greatest extent possible, work with a buddy
  • Boards and directors: stay nimble

We're getting there.

More soon....



[1] Stay tuned for even more on that, since on 5/16 we got word that NY will have guidance out on this by 5/18.

[3] Such as this one linked to the American Postal Workers Union site at https://apwu.org/contracts/handbook-m-41-city-delivery-carriers-duties-and-responsibilities: "131.35 Deliver mail according to the instructions or known desire of the addressee. Otherwise, deliver as addressed if the addressee has not moved."  [emphasis added]. 

[4] For instance, if the was the ILL service, we'd look at the contract, not governing regulations.

[5] The link takes you to https://www.uspsoig.gov/document/employee-safety-%E2%80%93-postal-service-covid-19-response, which as of 5/14/21, stated "To slow the virus’s spread, the Postal Service required all employees to wear face coverings where a state or local mandate was in place and social distancing could not be achieved,[and] requested customers to wear face coverings in all retail facilities...."

[7] Full statement here: https://www.nalc.org/news/nalc-updates/body/12-3-20-statement.pdf. This message also includes a demand by the union president that then-President Trump apologize for stating that mail carriers were selling ballots sent in the mail.  2020 was a tough year for everyone, but this letter really brought home the extra burdens it brought to mail carriers.

[8] And, throughout the summer of 2021, doubtless many other developments.

Tags: COVID-19, Emergency Response, Masks, Safety Plan

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