In response to the Trump administration’s guidance for actively resuming government operations, AFGE issued six preconditions that must be met before any reopening can occur.
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. Health care workers in the Department of Veterans Affairs, Transportation Security Officers employed by TSA, correctional officers in the Bureau of Prisons, inspectors at the Department of Agriculture, civilians in the Department of Defense have lost their lives carrying out their duties on behalf of the American people. Thousands have contracted the virus.
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.
“I must strongly rebuke the administration for publishing a set of guidelines that is both premature and imprudent,” said AFGE President Everett Kelley in an April 22 letter to the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management. “These guidelines would, if implemented too soon, worsen the crisis, and unnecessarily expose millions of Americans to illness and potentially, to death. Human life is precious, and we must protect the health and safety of our government workforce.”
“These six preconditions must be met prior to any opening up of federal worksites,” he added. “I trust that you value the lives and well-being of the federal workforce and all Americans. While I understand the eagerness to return to normal operations, as leaders we must display the wisdom and prudence necessary for those who rely upon us for guidance and good judgment.”
Below are the six preconditions AFGE demands before a return to normalcy for federal agency operations.
Our nation will not be able to assess correctly the risk of transmission until we know the extent of infection. Epidemiologists are unanimous that nationwide universal testing is the best way to identify risk and take action to isolate those who have been in contact with infected individuals. Only with universal testing will it be possible to implement prudent policies for the use of public transportation, for social distancing inside federal offices and other worksites, and other appropriate precautions, especially those that involve direct interaction with the general public. The administration has so far eschewed the development or implementation of a national plan for universal testing, leaving it to states to compete with one another under the false assumption that a virus somehow will respect a state’s borders.
Epidemiologists and other public health experts recommend the standard of 14 days of exponential decline in new cases within a region before easing quarantine and shelter-at-home restrictions.
For federal employees, the region should be defined by commuting area. In most cases, this measure will encompass the areas defined in the General Schedule locality pay system. For areas within the “Rest of US” locality, regions should be defined by Census data on commuting used to describe Combined Statistical Areas or Metropolitan Statistical Areas.
The administration’s April 20 guidelines attempted to divide the federal workforce into groups of varying risk of dying from COVID-19. In particular, it suggests that healthy workers under the age of 65 be treated differently from so-called “vulnerable populations.” This is contradicted by abundant evidence that even healthy workers under the age of 65 are vulnerable to contracting and dying from COVID-19. As such, AFGE rejects the OPM/OMB attempted categorization of the federal workforce in terms of vulnerability.
Recognizing that all federal employees are vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, we urge a return policy that treats all workers equally with full accommodations provided to anyone who needs further measures to ensure that individual’s safety and health.
All federal worksites must have adequate supplies available to the workforce to ensure ongoing efforts to minimize the spread of infection. These include but are not limited to employer-supplied masks and PPE, hand sanitizer, facilities for hand washing including soap and hot water, tissues, etc.
Interior infrastructure must meet safety and health standards to allow proper distancing, dividers, regular disinfecting of workspaces, and areas for isolation. In addition, we recommend that no-touch electronic thermometers be used at federal worksites to ensure that employees, and others, displaying signs of possible infection, be immediately quarantined. Every federal worksite must be fully OSHA-compliant and operated within CDC guidelines.
After a return to work at federal worksites, every agency must adopt a strict policy to ensure that federal employees who develop a COVID-19 infection, or who displays any symptom known to be related to COVID-19, be removed from the workplace immediately and all remaining employees must be notified immediately.
Contact tracing should be employed and all those who report contact with the symptomatic employee must be removed from the workplace as well and permitted either to work remotely or receive weather and safety leave for a minimum of 14 days.
Each agency with union represented employees must engage with their union in order to obtain the views of front-line workers as plans are formulated and meet any and all bargaining obligations prior to implementing the plan.
For more information about AFGE’s response to COVID-19, visit www.afge.org/coronavirus .