Could the pandemic hobble the US Postal Service?

This year, nearly
35,000 postal workers have missed work due to being quarantined, according to
data from the US Postal Service (USPS). That amounts to more than 5.5 percent
of the agency’s workforce of 625,000. Some of these employees tested positive
for coronavirus; others were removed from work because they were in close
proximity to a carrier of the virus.

On a weekly
basis, the number of USPS workers who were out of commission has more than
tripled since June. Toward the end of August, 12,500 USPS workers were out of
work — approximately 2 percent of the USPS’s 625,000 person workforce.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed great demands on the agency. The Post Office carried more than a billion parcels last quarter, a 50 percent increase from the same period in 2019. The USPS was built for carrying paper, so this influx of parcels has brought logistical challenges. Additionally, this autumn the USPS will carry tens of millions of absentee ballots and election materials.

So Congress and
the public need to keep an eye on the rate of postal employees quarantined. A
sharp upsurge of the percentage of Post Office employees out of work could
wreak havoc, delaying deliveries of prescription drugs and disenfranchising

the US Postal Service does not make it easy for anyone to find these data. One
cannot find them on the agency’s website. (I got them from an inside source.)

Nor has the USPS said much about how it will cope should a significant portion of its workforce be on sick leave. One of the USPS’s four unions, the National Association of Letter Carriers, did sign an agreement with USPS leadership to allow USPS to employ temporary employees to help cover shifts. But whether USPS could be hobbled by coronavirus this autumn remains an open question that needs to be addressed rapidly.

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