Fed employees, unions demand more COVID-19 protection
- By Nathan Abse
- Apr 30, 2020
Federal employees are demanding better COVID-19 protection -- everything from more telework to better PPE and safer practices -- citing thousands of coworkers already sickened and killed by the global pandemic, some as a result of inadequate workplace safety.
Nationwide, new COVID-19 cases run in the tens of thousands every day, and deaths remain stuck at an appalling 1,000-plus per day, despite a slowing of the pandemic. Many feds face potential long hours at still-risky workplaces -- from federal hospitals and prisons to garden-variety offices.
The demand for safer federal workplaces comes as many states and localities still lack testing and contact tracing capacity but are lurching toward reopening business and social activity, adding dangers of new outbreaks.
While the political push to reopen is strong across several Southern and interior states, the White House Task Force’s Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx -- along with all CDC pandemic models -- indicate a continuing need for social distancing and maximum protection for employees who work outside of their homes.
The Task Force’s own guidelines call for extending stay-at-home orders until a state or locality can demonstrate 14 days straight of declining COVID-19 cases -- guidelines being ignored by some states.
Bottom line, according to the unions: If federal workplaces are reactivated without stricter precautions and more testing, they will quickly become far more perilous for employees. The situation is even bleaker, union leaders say, in a country headed toward re-opening and looser rules, where more people and contagion will circulate inside and outside of essential workplaces.
Unions spotlight workplace risks
One major federal union -- the American Federation of Government Employees -- came out swinging against any rapid and reckless reintegration of personnel currently working from home back into the workplace.
“Since the coronavirus hit the United States, AFGE members have been on the front lines of our country’s efforts both to contain the pandemic and to treat those who have been infected,” AFGE said in an April 27 release. “At a time when Americans are still dying from the virus, it’s highly irresponsible for the administration to return agencies to full operations without sufficient safety precautions to protect the health and safety of the federal workforce,” the union added.
Another major employee association, the National Treasury Employees Union, issued a new list of “health and safety conditions” that the organization says agencies must meet “before federal employees are required to return to the workplace,” the union said in a release.
“Most federal employees have never missed a beat during this pandemic,” NTEU President Tony Reardon said, referring to how flexible feds have been in the crisis. But safety must improve, the union said.
“Federal employees, just like everyone else, are eager to return to a normal work routine -- but not if it endangers their families, their coworkers or their communities,” the NTEU said.
For more, including each union’s list of demands for safer workplaces, go to: https://www.nteu.org/media-center/news-releases/2020/04/27/safereturnrelease and https://www.afge.org/article/afge-issues-6-preconditions-for-reopening-federal-facilities/.