From delivering critical medical supplies to keeping its 600,000-workforce safe, the United States Postal Service (USPS) faces no shortage of challenges during the Coronavirus pandemic. The agency recently received $10 billion in extended United States Treasury borrowing authority from Congress, but all the money in the world cannot do as much as sound management practices and prudent prioritization. In mustering the strength to fight the Coronavirus without relying on even more taxpayer dollars, the USPS could stand to learn a thing or two from private delivery companies such as FedEx and United Parcel Service (UPS).
The USPS has certainly not been spared from the pandemic and continues operations (including in-store) despite the safety risks of eschewing social distancing. Although management has produced a “Pandemic Influenza Plan,” workers such as window clerks and mail carriers are complaining that guidance from management has not been clear. Government Executive senior correspondent Eric Katz reports, “One USPS window clerk has not received firm guidance, and is ‘concerned about repercussions for staying home,’ according to her husband, a postal retiree. She is still going to work.”
Even though the upper echelons of USPS leadership have instructed managers and supervisors to provide liberal sick leave policies, American Postal Workers Union western regional coordinator Omar Gonzalez notes, “As in the past, directives emanating from Washington do not always filter down to or are acted upon by managers tasked with ensuring the nation’s mail is processed and delivered often hampered by short staff.”
Workers and consumers are paying the price for this stunning disconnect between Washington, D.C. directives and reality. Reports indicate that Postal workers are facing across-the-board difficulties in procuring basic sanitary/disinfecting supplies, and station management doesn’t appear particularly interested in addressing the Coronavirus or implementing signature modification procedures. These troubling reports have caught the attention of presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who recently wrote a letter to out-going Postmaster General Megan Brennan urging her to take “concrete actions” to protect her employees.
In their struggle to protect workers and consumers from the Coronavirus, the agency could stand to take a page or two from private shippers. These non-governmental carriers are using alternative drop-off locations to avoid going anywhere near places with vulnerable patients such as nursing homes and hospitals. Meanwhile, USPS workers are complaining that direct deliveries continue to put these places at significant risk to public health. Unlike its private counterparts, agency management is failing to prevent avoidable situations such as agency workers approaching nursing home properties on a daily basis.
Meanwhile, the delivery signature modification guidelines that USPS supervisors are ignoring are being aggressively implemented by companies such as UPS and FedEx. The Wall Street Journal reports that UPS drivers are being instructed to step back and have consumers use their own pens to sign for their deliveries. FedEx is suspending signature collection altogether for the time being. At logistics hubs across the country, these companies are systematically disinfecting facilities and ordering more transportation shuttles to ensure that commuting employees are seated further apart from one another.
No company’s response is perfect and lapses are inevitable for such large operations. But private shippers seem to have a better handle on keeping their workers and consumers safe from Coronavirus than the USPS. Congress should maintain strict oversight over any new Treasury funds lent out to the USPS, and make sure that for $10 billion supervisors are adequately sanitizing facilities, giving consistent guidance to workers, and devising alternate drop-off locations to avoid places such as nursing homes. America’s mail carrier must act quickly and thoroughly to keep its workers and consumers safe from the Coronavirus pandemic.