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Lawmakers pledge support for hazard pay, PPE, telework at VA facilities

In an April 29 tele-town hall hosted by the American Federation of Government Employees’ National VA Council and moderated by AFGE President Everett Kelley, union leaders and activists working at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities asked Congress for help regarding a lack of personal protective equipment, hazard pay, telework flexibility and coronavirus testing, as well as the VA’s alleged failure to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.

A number of local National VA Council leaders detailed what was going on at their facilities, including employees being given only one protective mask per week and management’s refusal to allow the union to email employees about the availability of the donated PPE.

Linda Ward-Smith of Local 1224 in Las Vegas discussed management’s refusal to allow employees to telework even though their job allows them to work remotely – like telehealth nurses and community care employees who talk on the phone all day. 

Speaking from his home in Ohio, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown reiterated the importance of getting workers adequate PPE and the need to provide hazard pay and “hero” bonuses in the next stimulus bill.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) expressed admiration for frontline workers who still show up for work even though they don’t have enough PPE. He discussed pressing the VA to make sure employees who can telework are allowed to and that those filing workers’ compensation claim for COVID-19 can do so without having to jump through hoops.

He also agreed with AFGE’s proposal that federal workers should receive hazard pay. “I’m going to continue to press for hazard pay in the next CARES legislation,” Takano said.

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) agreed that the lack of PPE and telework tools was very concerning, especially because Congress has been trying to make sure the VA has enough of the resources that they need. “It’s discouraging to continue to hear stories from the front lines that the policies are not being implemented uniformly or in a common-sense way,” she said, but she vowed to make sure VA employees across the country have a safe workplace.

The town hall took place on Facebook and a recording can be accessed here.

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