by Ross Marchand
The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has been hauled into court plenty of times, having experienced its fair share of administrative and election law cases. But now, America’s mail carrier faces fundamental questions over religious tolerance at the post office.
USA Today Supreme Court correspondent John Fritze reports: “Gerald Groff, a former mail carrier in Pennsylvania, sued the U.S. Postal Service after it required him to work Sunday shifts delivering packages. Groff, who resigned in 2019, is a Christian and believes Sundays should be dedicated to worship, court records show.” The Supreme Court has chosen to take up the case, and the holding could expand employees’ rights to obtain religious accommodations.
Overlooked in reporting about the case are the dubious USPS business and hiring decisions that led to this legal fiasco. A better-staffed and less-overworked postal labor force would not require workers to choose between filling in and honoring their beliefs. The agency has a responsibility to honor constitutional rights while keeping the mail flowing.
Reports across the country show a short-staffed mail carrier constantly struggling to meet delivery standards. In October, a Sacramento, California, resident was quoted as saying, “We’re seeing postal trucks going around our neighborhoods at eight at night trying to do what they need to do.” Across the Twin Cities in Minnesota, residents report not receiving their mail for up to two weeks at a time due to staffing shortages. Cleveland, Ohio, has also borne the brunt of staffing shortages.
Normally, private companies would respond to spotty worker coverage by quickly hiring temps as a bridge to a sounder long-term strategy. The USPS knows that any temporary worker it hires will likely turn into a permanent employee with significant compensation costs. Agreements with unions typically allow non-career employees in good standing to make the jump to career status, and the USPS is hardly in a position to refuse labor demands. Agreements with labor unions such as the American Postal Workers Union have resulted in low caps on the number of non-career workers that can be employed at any given time, and the USPS constantly finds itself on the verge of breaching these limits. As a result, the postal labor force is stretched thin, and the agency isn’t as amenable as it should be to religious liberty concerns.
The USPS finds itself especially vulnerable on Sundays because of the agency’s commitment to delivering packages on this supposed day of rest. Even before the current labor shortages, the USPS had a hard time hiring and retaining a sufficient number of non-career employees for Sunday deliveries and had to lean heavily on career workers at substantial cost. Now the labor situation is even direr, and any package delivery delays are likely coming at the expense of timely mail deliveries.
Congress could try to make the situation better by reining in the clout of powerful postal unions. For example, lawmakers could give USPS management unilateral authority to set caps on non-career employees. But this alone won’t be enough for the USPS to hire enough weekend workers at a competitive hourly wage. Funding these payroll bumps will require the USPS to boost revenues from packages, which are likely underpriced. According to a 2022 report by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a more reasonable parcel pricing strategy could bring in at least a billion dollars more per year in additional revenue.
When Groff gets his day in court in front of the nine justices, the USPS will have plenty of explaining to do. All the First Amendment doctrine in the world, though, cannot make up for the USPS’ hopeless hiring policies. Postal employees deserve to thrive at a workplace that respects their time and rights.
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Ross Marchand is a non-resident fellow at the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.