Agencies' pandemic response risks workers' health, union chief says
- By Lia Russell
- Apr 07, 2020
Everett Kelley receives an award at the annual National Action Network Martin Luther King Jr. Day Breakfast, Jan. 2019. (Photo courtesy: AFGE)
Federal managers are taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to tread on employee rights, according to Everett Kelley, the national president of the American Federation of Government Employees.
In an April 4 interview on C-SPAN, Kelley described multiple reports from federal employees saying that their management had ignored established agreements and instead unilaterally directed workers to work without protective equipment such as masks and gloves.
"They have really shut the unions out so that there is not an opportunity to bargain. Management is making decisions without consulting or having any opportunities to negotiate with the union, and so there is no plan. [Members] aren't getting any feedback or information from their employers. I think we're going to see some tragic times if we don't come together and work together to resolve these issues," Kelley said.
Linda Ward-Smith, a Department of Veterans Affairs nurse based in Las Vegas, who called into the April 4 program said working conditions amid the pandemic are risky.
"The agency is ill-prepared for the national emergency upon us right now. Our frontline employees are being exposed, and they are not trained. They have been reassigned into areas they've never worked before," Ward-Smith, president of AFGE Local 1224, said on the program.
Another VA employee based in Portsmouth, Va., called into the show and said that her office was forcing medical workers to see COVID-19 patients without allowing them to take precautions such as wearing surgical masks to prevent transmission during face-to-face contact.
"To force employees to bring their own masks, if they even allow them to bring their own mask, is wrong. Those things should be provided, there should've been preparations made for this. The VA won't even tell the public how many employees are being adversely impacted," the employee said.
AFGE is in the midst of a lawsuit against the federal government seeking statutorily required hazard pay for federal employees working on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.
In a reply to a request for comment, the VA said that "all employees have the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment, as per CDC guidelines, and the agency [was] following all CDC guidelines for the use of surgical masks or N-95 respirators and protective equipment."