The New Jersey congressional delegation led by Sen. Cory Booker is urging more protections for U.S. Postal Service (USPS) workers at risk because of their essential duties in delivering the mail.
According to the National Association of Letter Carriers, more than 60 employees nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19 and approximately 2,000 USPS employees are in quarantine over concerns they were exposed to the coronavirus.
The letter from the delegation to Postmaster General Megan Brennan centers on making sure USPS employees receive adequate benefits and protections during the coronavirus crisis.
No Protective Gear
The lawmakers expressed concern with reports letter carriers are not being provided personal protective equipment—including hand sanitizer, masks, or gloves—and are still expected to enter senior facilities despite recommendations experts against doing so.
“Any failure of the USPS to keep its workers safe not only puts their employees at risk, but also threatens each of the communities they serve,” the bipartisan letter states.
Booker said the lawmakers have heard from worried citizens as well as federal employees that the USPS infrastructure, from processing and distribution centers to individual post offices, are severely underprepared to protect its workforce from coronavirus.
They delegation expressed concern that workers “have been pressured to continue working despite displaying symptoms of COVID-19” and that in some cases, “employees were forced to work until they were able to produce a doctor’s note confirming that they had contracted coronavirus—a significant challenge given the shortage of available tests.”
“We have also heard from multiple USPS employees that their workstations in processing and distribution centers force them to remain in close proximity to their colleagues, in contradiction of guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the letter stated.
Specific questions the delegation wants answered include what precautions is the USPS taking for mail being delivered to those who are at a heightened risk, including the elderly and those who are immunocompromised; has USPS considered temporarily closing to deep clean distribution and processing centers as well as carrier cars; and how will the USPS implement new procedures for delivery and pickup allowing employees and customers to avoid direct contact.
For the employees working for the federal agency, Booker wanted reassurances the USPS will provide full pay to high risk individuals, or those who live with high risk individuals, for the duration of the pandemic and will it provide emergency sick leave beyond normal accrued leave to all employees be provided, including those who have no contractual right to leave.