The largest union representing federal and D.C. government workers is urging members of Congress to apply pressure on the administration to take the coronavirus seriously and provide better guidance and support to federal employees whose jobs put them in direct contact with the public, while also calling on the administration to immediately allow all federal employees to telework if able.
The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 employees across the federal and D.C. governments, sent letters to leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services and Government Reform committees on March 5 outlining the union’s public health concerns regarding the coronavirus and potential impact on represented workers.
In addition, AFGE sent a letter to Office of Personnel Management Director Dale Cabaniss on March 6 requesting that OPM immediately allow all telework-eligible federal workers to work from home to lessen the spread of the virus and ensure the continuation of vital government services.
“Instead of encouraging federal workers to telework when possible to avoid further spread of this deadly virus, this administration has actively worked to eliminate telework at many of our agencies as part of a concerted effort to strip federal workers of every benefit and right gained through collective bargaining,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a statement. “The administration’s continued disregard for the safety and well-being of America’s workforce is appalling, especially when facing a global pandemic.”
Americans who have contracted the coronavirus while overseas have been quarantined at two military bases, Travis Air Force Base in California and Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.
“The quarantines at Travis and Lackland were initiated without any type of notice or training for the Defense civilian employees working at these installations,” Kelley says in the letter to lawmakers. “We have received reports from employees we represent that safety protocols and safety equipment were not made available to the DoD employees on the base, nor were they adequately trained on procedures for minimizing the chance of exposure or infection for themselves or their families.”
AFGE recently learned that a veteran who contracted the virus was relocated to the Palo Alto Veterans Medical Center in California. Yet VA officials have not met with AFGE to discuss the need to provide VA hospital and nursing home staff with adequate training and protective equipment.
OPM guidance issued March 3 advises agencies to ensure that the maximum number of employees are able to telework, yet it does not direct agencies to begin approving telework – even for workers in communities affected by the virus or in cases where employees do not have face-to-face contact with the public.
“I cannot stress how urgent it is for OPM to ensure the well-being of federal employees, reduce the spread of COVID-19 among citizens, and provide the maximum protection of economic activity and vital government services during this crisis through the authorization of widespread telework usage in all federal agencies,” Kelley wrote in his letter to Cabaniss.
AFGE’s letter to lawmakers specifically asks for their help in ensuring that agency leadership meet with the union to discuss the need for employee communication around training, protective gear, and other precautionary measures needed to protect both employees and the public.
“The basic guidance to agencies issued by the administration thus far is insufficient and inadequate,” Kelley said in a statement. “Many federal employees are in direct contact with the public, in some cases working in areas where people have tested positive for the coronavirus or been quarantined, yet they have been provided no protective equipment or specific information on how to avoid infection.”