Baltimore VA Employees Win More PPE, Telework After Protest

Categories: VA, The Insider, Coronavirus

As the coronavirus outbreak raged on with cases in the U.S. nearing one million, employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Baltimore were worried about their own health and safety. As frontline workers, they literally risked their lives coming to work without being given enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect themselves. Management did not provide testing to employees exposed to the virus or allow telework for those who could.

So the employees, who are members of AFGE Local 424, took the matter into their own hands. During a shift change last month, they joined forces with another union – the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE-SEIU) Local R3-19 – and gathered outside of their hospital. They held signs to highlight unsafe working conditions and demanded that management do better.

After the action, they saw immediate changes. More surgical and N95 masks were given to employees. The emergency room medical support assistants were approved for telework overnight.

“Just like other locals who have taken action in West Palm Beach, Carrollton, Salem, Biloxi and more, it is clear: when we show our power, we can win real change,” said Regina Smith, president of AFGE Local 424.

The local, however, intends to keep up the pressure as management is still slow to act in other areas. EMS workers who need powered air purifying respirators (PAPRs) to perform their jobs, for example, were instructed to share their PARPs. Management continued to refuse to test employees exposed to the virus. They are also not forthcoming with coronavirus cases in the hospital, so employees don’t trust that the info given is accurate.

Their next goal is to partner with Veterans Service Organizations for additional days of action with their legislators. Safe working conditions are more important now than ever now that more than 2,000 VA employees have tested positive for COVID-19.

“We need the VA to show their plans to test, track, and possibly provide grants to Veteran Service Organizations whom our veterans, hospitals, and communities depend on,” Smith added.

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


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