By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has asked the Biden administration for temporary relief from new vaccine or testing requirements covering large businesses for its 650,000 employees, warning of potentially "catastrophic" impacts.
Deputy Postmaster Doug Tulino, in a letter dated Tuesday seen by Reuters, asked the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to delay by 120 days the deadline for USPS to comply with the agency's vaccine-or-testing mandate for large businesses, covering more than 80 million American workers.
USPS, one of the largest civilian U.S. employers, says it cannot meet the deadlines, citing "inadequate staffing" and other issues.
USPS added it faces time-consuming legal requirements to collect employee medical information and to negotiate with unions representing employees.
Operating 30,000 locations countrywide, USPS says it will need to train "tens of thousands of local supervisors and managers" to monitor employees' compliance.
USPS wants approval to continue using its current COVID-19 mitigation policies while the request is being decided.
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"We respectfully suggest that the nation cannot afford the additional potential substantial harm that would be engendered if the ability of the Postal Service to deliver mail and packages is significantly negatively impacted," USPS wrote.
USPS is not covered by Biden's separate rules, which mandated 3.5 million federal workers be vaccinated or obtain medical or religious exemptions by Nov. 22.
USPS warned the rules are likely to result in the loss of "many employees."
It said that requiring USPS "to absorb what could inevitably be a dramatic loss of employees at a time when the labor market is extremely tight and in the middle of the Postal Service’s Peak Season would have a potentially catastrophic impact on our ability to provide service."
A Labor Department spokesperson said OSHA has received the USPS request and was reviewing it. OSHA determined compliance was "feasible for employers with 100 or more employees, including the postal service," the spokeperson added.
The Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) issued in November requires employees in organizations with more than 100 workers be vaccinated or tested weekly and subjected to strict face mask requirements. Last month, a U.S. appeals court reinstated the ETS mandate.
The Supreme Court on Friday is set hear arguments on the issue.
OSHA extended compliance time last month, saying it would not issue citations before Jan. 10 and will not issue citations for noncompliance with testing requirements before Feb. 9 if employers are working to comply.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio & Simon Cameron-Moore)