Your Union in Action Fighting for COVID Health and Safety Measures

May 20, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

The American Postal Workers Union has been advocating for postal worker safety since the novel coronavirus and the illness it causes – COVID-19 – began to threaten the United States. The APWU started communicating with the Postal Service in late January to find out what they were doing to prepare for COVID-19 and their plans to protect employees.

The union was unrelenting. Management began sharing the few things that they were doing, including the stand-up talks to employees. APWU leadership distributed information we received as quickly as possible with the membership.

“Our very first priority is always ensuring that the Postal Service provides for the health and safety of our members,” said President Mark Dimondstein. “Postal workers are on the front lines of the pandemic response. We need to ensure that the hardworking men and women who keep medicine, medical equipment, food, supplies and other essential goods moving through the mail are protected as the country relies on us in ways they never have before.” PPE and Increased Cleaning

Personal Protective Equipment

(PPE) was an issue that needed to be addressed as the coronavirus was detected in the United States. In early February, members were reminded that they could use PPE while at work, including wearing gloves and masks in all postal operations and that the Postal Service must purchase and provide gloves and masks to employees.

Taking lessons we learned from past events like the anthrax mailings and the H1N1 Swine flu pandemic, the APWU also demanded the USPS re-institute the increased cleaning and sanitizing procedures that had been done in the past. We spoke about the need for additional handwashing rights and opportunities in the workplace since handwashing is recognized as one of the most important things people can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The APWU Regional Coordinators and the Regional Safety and Health Representatives were involved early to help with our initial response. Regional Safety Representatives reached out to every local president in their area to let them know that they were available for help, to answer questions, ensure management obtained PPE, and give overall safety and health support. Additionally, some Regional Safety and Health Representatives were placed on the APWU payroll to research the pandemic, research responses from around the world, and answer questions that came into the field.

The APWU has spared no expense in making sure our COVID-19 response was and would continue to be done well. This includes consulting two external safety and health specialists with decades of experience to help the APWU’s response, review of CDC guidelines, and review of the Postal Service policies and procedures. They continue to work with us today. Throughout the pandemic, the APWU has worked to ensure your safety and health is addressed.

The APWU website dedicated a page for resources and references that are tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to knowledge and the tools you need to have a workplace with lower risk of transmission of COVID-19 was and still is an important part of the APWU response. The page coronavirus has been updated nearly every day with additional information, including USPS documents, policies, Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs), CDC references, cleaning procedures, etc. This webpage is referenced by the other postal unions and postal workers as an exceptional resource for COVID-19-related postal issues.

APWU’s Actions Following Positive Test

In early March, the Postal Service informed the APWU of the first positive COVID-19 case. Within hours, President Mark Dimondstein reached out to Postal Leadership and requested a meeting with the Postmaster General (PMG) to discuss and get a more detailed briefing on the USPS response for what we now knew would soon be a nationwide issue.

During this meeting, that included all four postal unions, the APWU strongly advocated for:

  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
  • Increased cleaning and sanitization
  • Handwashing time
  • Stand Ups to be targeted to facilities like International Service Centers, Call Centers, and the National Center for Employee Development
  • The Postal Service take the “stay at home if you're sick” policy seriously, and that field managers and supervisors enforce it
  • Institution of a “liberal leave” policy
  • Administrative leave for employees exposed to COVID-19, so they would stay away from work and help slow the spread of the disease.
  • Consideration of telework for employees whose jobs would facilitate this work

COVID-19 Negotiations

Throughout the pandemic, the APWU has engaged in productive and positive negotiations with Postal Headquarters to ensure your safety and health is addressed. To do this, the APWU has signed multiple temporary Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) to address various issues. These have included MOUs on travel, training, telework for many different workers, expanded sick leave for dependent care, additional paid leave for PSEs, grievance extensions, and extensions on local negotiation timeline implementations. We also came to further agreements, including an agreement that ensures workers who need to take leave in smaller offices would not be refused because a postmaster would work over 15 hours in a week, and an agreement on additional staffing in mail processing and customer service so employees could utilize the liberal leave policy. We also worked with the USPS to change retail center procedures and install barriers to protect retail workers.

The APWU talked with the USPS daily to address our members’ needs, and talks will continue as the pandemic continues and the landscape and needs shift with COVID-19.

“We demand that the Postal Service address the serious safety and health needs that our members face every day,” Industrial Relations Director Vance Zimmerman said. “We will continue updating you when we have a new policy change negotiated.”

“These are unusual times and many of us are understandably anxious – for ourselves, our families, our jobs and our communities,” said President Dimondstein. “I, like so many others, am heartened by the extraordinary courage of postal workers serving their neighbors in times of need. Together, let’s support each other, encourage each other, and fight for safe workplaces together in these extraordinary times.”

COVID-19 Reporting Procedure

The APWU instituted a protocol for members and locals to raise their concerns on lack of PPE, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, inadequate sneeze guards, and any other COVID-19 safety-related items. Members can contact their local leaders who will address it with management. If management does not immediately address the issues, it is elevated to a National Business Agent (NBA), who would raise it with their counterparts at the district level. If that did not address the issue, the NBAs elevate it to the Regional Coordinator to address at the area level or elevate to Headquarters as needed.

Each morning the APWU provides USPS Headquarters a list of areas where it has been reported there is a shortage of PPE or other issues. However, that list is getting smaller each day – because all of you demanded PPE and followed the protocols in place to get what you must have to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in your offices.

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