APWU Advocates for Prioritization of Postal Workers in National COVID-19 Vaccination Plan

March 1, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

On January 20, following the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States, the APWU got to work pushing for the new administration to prioritize postal workers in its national COVID-19 vaccination policy. In a letter to the administration, President Dimondstein advocated for postal workers to be recognized as frontline workers in the national vaccine rollout.

With virtually no national plan in place, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has proceeded very slowly and unevenly across the country with states/territories implementing their own plans. Many essential workers are still waiting for their vaccines even as they report to work every day, including postal workers, who have continued to interact with the public and connect the people of the country during the pandemic.

In many states, including New York, postal workers have not been included in initial vaccine rollouts, even though the CDC recommended postal workers be considered in the “1-B” status along with other essential workers.

In his letter, President Dimondstein asked the administration to develop a national plan in line with the CDC’s recommendations.

“We are optimistic that your new administration will work to bring order to the COVID chaos, including bringing a national plan to the vaccine roll-out. We strongly urge that as part of this plan the CDC recommendations in relation to postal workers are consistently and fully implemented throughout the country,” President Dimondstein wrote.

“The well-being of postal workers and postal customers depend on it.” In addition to the letter to the Biden administration, President Dimondstein also wrote to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and other governors, urging them to move postal workers higher up in the vaccine rollout order.

The APWU is committed to working with the new administration on a comprehensive, national vaccination plan.


Postal Service employees who contract COVID-19 while at work have the option to apply for federal workers’ compensation through the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP).

Choosing to apply for workers’ compensation is a personal decision.

Each employee’s case is different and the decision should be based on the facts of the case. While you are making your decision, issues to consider include:

  • No one knows the long-term effects of COVID-19;
  • COVID-19 “long haulers” – those who experience symptoms for weeks to months after their initial infection – could miss work for extended periods of time, especially if hospitalized;
  • Complications/other future conditions can be COVID-19 related;
  • In case of a COVID-19 related death, survivor benefits could be granted.

No matter the decision, employees who choose to submit claims must be able to provide evidence that they:

  • Filed a claim on form CA-1 within 3 years of contracting COVID-19.
  • Contracted COVID-19 – this can be done with a confirmed laboratory test result; antibody tests are not the best evidence.
  • Contracted COVID-19 while in conjunction with their USPS job.
  • Have a physician signed statement confirming the diagnosis and stating with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the contraction of the disease is causally related to the job.

This is not the only evidence or supporting documentation needed, but it is a start.

The APWU is providing this for informational purposes only. This is not medical or legal advice nor is this a solicitation for claims to be filed.

Each employee who files an OWCP claim related to COVID-19 is responsible for developing the claim, completing the forms, and producing the needed evidence.

On February 17, 2021, the APWU conducted an informational session for union leaders on recent instructions OWCP claims examiners have been given on COVID-19 claims. Union members who have basic questions on COVID-19 related OWCP claims may contact their local union officials.

Update on Paid COVID-Related Leave and Next Steps

On March 18, 2020, former President Trump signed the Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) into law. One of the provisions of that law mandated that employers provide up to 14 days of paid COVID-related leave, separate from any accrued sick or personal leave, to any employee experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or quarantining pursuant to a federal, state, or local government order or advice of a health care provider.

The law also mandated employers provide up to two weeks leave at two-thirds the employee’s regular rate of pay should the employee be caring for another individual in quarantine or a child whose school is closed or child care provider is unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19.

However, the FFCRA expired on December 31, 2020 as Congress failed to renew the law.

Regardless, while it is no longer required by law, the APWU believes it is management’s responsibility to continue to abide by the “Family First” principles and provide paid administrative leave to any employee off work due to a COVID-19 exposure or diagnosis, no matter where such exposure occurred.

Instead of following these principles, management has instead taken the position to issue a “decision tree” that administrative leave will only be automatically paid if the employee contracted the disease in the workplace, and in all other situations the employee must use their own personal leave. While we have reached agreement with management on a number of other health and safety issues, we remain in conflict on this issue.

“It is a disturbing signal that the safety and health of the employees and our families is taking a back seat to ‘business,’” said President Dimondstein. “It is even more egregious considering that postal workers were instrumental in securing $10 billion in Congressional emergency relief to the USPS, in part to cover the increased expenses of protecting our health and safety.”

“Postal management has the responsibility under the union Collective Bargaining Agreement to protect the safety of all employees,” Industrial Relations Director Vance Zimmerman said. “Article 14 states, ‘It is the responsibility of management to provide safe working conditions in all present and future installations.’”

As this important battle continues, we recommend the following for any postal worker that has been exposed to COVID-19, is experiencing symptoms, or has been diagnosed as COVID-19 positive/presumptive positive:

Follow the USPS policy as outlined in a multitude of stand-up talks, policy documents, and statements to stay home from work.

  • Follow the USPS policy and report the diagnosis, exposure, or symptoms to the USPS.
  • When reported, workers should ask management what next steps to take.
  • When management initiates the action that the employee cannot report to work, workers should ask whether they will be placed on administrative leave.
  • If management instructs and compels workers to use their own leave (sick or annual) a grievance should be filed documenting the fact circumstances of each case, including the date when management was notified, management’s response, name(s) of management officials involved and when and how exposure happened.

Grievances should be filed under Article 14, adding any safety and leave provisions of Article 19.

The Industrial Relations Department provided a “template” that can be used as a guide for local grievances. As discussions continue with management, we continue to advocate that Congress restore the provisions of the FFCRA.

We also continue to promote mandatory mask-wearing as a basic health and safety measure, and are pressing management to implement pilot programs on “thermal” testing in the workplace.

Further updates on paid leave and other safety and health measures will be provided on apwu.org and in News Service Bulletins.

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