As Feds Fight for Proper PPE, Coronavirus Hits Home with First Deaths

Categories: The Insider, Coronavirus

AFGE and federal employees are demanding safer working conditions, including proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), for frontline workers as more and more federal employees are dying of the coronavirus.

As of April 13, at least 11 federal workers have died while thousands more have tested positive for the new coronavirus, known as COVID-19. The real numbers could be much higher since there is no uniform method for federal agencies to report COVID-19 cases and related deaths among employees. The information we receive comes from our locals and news reports.

  • At the Department of Veterans Affairs alone, 1,100 employees have tested positive and seven have died – two of whom were AFGE members.
  • At the Bureau of Prisons, there are 70 staff members with confirmed cases.
  • At the Transportation Security Administration, 378 employees have tested positive and three have died.
  • 160 Customs and Border Protection employees have tested positive for the virus.
  • There are more than 300 confirmed cases of civilians at the Department of Defense. At least one AFGE member who contracted the virus died. Nearly 1,500 military personnel have tested positive.
  • More than 150 State Department employees have tested positive. Three locally employed workers overseas died.
  • At the Health and Human Services Department, at least 74 employees have the virus.
  • The Department of Interior has at least 22 positive cases.
  • At the Social Security Administration, more than 100 employees have tested positive for the virus.

AFGE mourns passing of members

AFGE mourns the passing of AFGE members who died from COVID-19 complications while serving the American people.

At least four members have died: two worked for the VA, one worked for the Army, and one worked for TSA. More member deaths have been reported, and we’re in the process of confirming them.

“On behalf of the 700,000 workers AFGE represents, I extend my deepest condolences to the families of our members who have lost their lives,” said AFGE President Everett Kelley. “Their avoidable and untimely deaths highlight the risks facing front-line health care providers and other mission-critical workers every day – and the scandalous lack of action to keep these workers safe.”

“We wouldn’t send our soldiers off to war without the proper equipment, but that’s precisely the situation facing many of the federal workers on the front lines of this pandemic. Employees are literally risking their lives to do their jobs, and the government must take immediate action to protect these brave employees and the public they serve. Not tomorrow. Today,” he added.

AFGE Is Fighting Back to Protect Our Members

AFGE on March 31 filed health and safety complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) charging the VA and BOP with violating workers’ health and safety, exacerbating the coronavirus outbreak.

Both the VA and BOP have directed staff who have come in contact with or been in close proximity to individuals who have shown symptoms of the virus to report to work without regard to the 14-day self-quarantine guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The VA has further violated OSHA standards by failing to provide workers with N-95 respirators and other necessary personal protective equipment, failing to isolate suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients, and refusing to provide COVID-19 testing to employees who have been exposed to those known or suspected of having the virus.

The BOP has recalled staff who have been screened and ordered home due to possible exposure within 48 hours of suspected infection. The agency violated OSHA standards by continuing to transfer inmates across prisons, including moving inmates who have tested positive for or been exposed to COVID-19 into areas of the country without any rate of coronavirus infection. Also, BOP has allowed inmates to continue to gather in group settings and has failed to provide N-95 masks to custodial staff and officers transporting inmates who have tested positive.

One day after AFGE filed the complaint, BOP implemented a “modified lockdown” to restrict inmate movement within the facilities. BOP said it will evaluate the situation again on April 15.

Our union also sued the federal government for hazardous duty pay and environmental differential pay for AFGE members and federal employees who have been or are being exposed to the coronavirus while performing their official duties.

“The Trump administration’s years of staffing cuts are having deadly consequences,” Kelley said. “Frontline agencies such as the VA and BOP now don’t have enough workers to staff facilities and handle the coronavirus outbreak.”

“Even now, the Trump administration is still battling federal workers and their unions, trying to silence and discredit voices from the frontlines, even as the pandemic is killing the employees they have a duty to protect. It’s a national disgrace,” he added.

For more information about AFGE’s response to COVID-19, visit www.afge.org/coronavirus.


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