Today, American Federation of Government Employees Public Policy Director Jacqueline Simon cautioned lawmakers against prematurely reopening federal worksites during a hearing that examined how the government can protect federal employees while continuing operations and providing vital resources to the public.
“Three months of data have taught us what it takes to beat the pandemic and provide protection until there is either an effective vaccine or an effective treatment. We need testing, social distancing, and contact tracing so new outbreaks can be identified and everyone who has been exposed can be quarantined,” Simon said in her prepared statement to the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations. “A premature end of these measures is a guarantee of resurgence and a guarantee that thousands more will suffer and die.”
Two days after the administration issued governmentwide guidance on reopening federal worksites, AFGE immediately sent a letter to Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought detailing AFGE’s six preconditions for reopening worksites and warning of a rushed reopening. OMB has yet to respond.
“It would be wrong to rush into reopening closed offices because no matter how scrupulously safety protocols might be followed, if agencies and their components resume operations that have been closed in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 when the virus is still spreading, when new cases and death rates are still increasing, it will have been too soon,” Simon said in her written statement. “As a consequence, instead of stopping the spread of COVID-19, the government itself will contribute to the continuation and possible worsening of the pandemic.”
In addition to sharing AFGE’s concerns about rushed reopening, Simon also called on Congress to support legislative measures to protect the federal workforce from the impact of COVID-19, including provisions that were not included in the HEROES Act. Specifically, these measures include urging the committee and the Congress to work to mandate federal agencies to provide universal testing and contact tracing for COVID-19, opportunities to enroll in the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program, protections for USDA food safety and inspection service (FSIS) workers, and restoration of labor management relations and collaboration with workers as agencies begin the reopening process.
Simon said there should be no re-opening unless and until federal agencies have the full capacity to test, protect, trace, and inform their workforces, and unless and until genuine, objective data on the status of the pandemic shows it has subsided.