Government Turns to Telework to Cope with Coronavirus

Categories: The Insider, Coronavirus

The Trump administration has directed agencies to review continuity of operation plans to make sure that as many people as possible have been identified as “telework ready” in preparation for coronavirus, which has killed 3,200 people and infected 92,800 worldwide.

Office of Personnel Management Director Dale Cabaniss told agency heads in a March 3 memo that they must incorporate telework in their continuity of operations (COOP) plans to be prepared for the potential impacts of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19).

“Agencies should immediately review their current COOP plans to ensure that telework has been fully incorporated and that as many employees as possible have been identified as telework employees in the plan, and are telework capable (or “telework ready”),” Cabaniss said.

The memo was issued after the formation of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on the same day. The task force leads the administration’s efforts to monitor and mitigate the spread of the virus while keeping the American people informed.

This is a reminder why telework is important. Before the outbreak of the virus, the administration had either drastically cut or cancelled several telework programs at various agencies such as Social Security Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Education as part of its ongoing war against federal workers and unions.

One of our locals at SSA recently filed a grievance against the agency’s decision to cut or cancel the 20-year telework program for thousands of workers despite the program’s crucial role in reducing the hearing backlog and getting the work done during emergencies.

“In its campaign against telework, the administration has belittled the environmental and emergency-preparedness benefits of telework and instead focused on its own goal of eliminating a right it correctly identifies as having originated in union contracts,” said AFGE National President Dr. Everett Kelley. “It has made clear that it would like to see telework minimized throughout the federal government for no other reason than it is seen as a benefit to the federal workforce.”

Sick days

In the memo, the administration told employees to stay home if they are sick. If they come to work and become sick, they should be sent home immediately so not to endanger others.

Thanks to paid sick leave, federal employees will be able to take care of themselves without having to take a pay cut or miss a paycheck entirely. Yet the administration proposed in its 2021 budget to cut their paid sick days as part of the war against federal workers.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, critics are now calling on Congress to mandate paid sick days for American workers who fall ill or have to take care of their ill family members. Our government must continue to be a model employer in this regard.

What’s not in the memo

The administration said nothing about training or provision of protective equipment, even for those in agencies where infected populations have been quarantined (Department of Defense), or for federal employees whose duties involve direct or indirect patient care for infected populations (Department of Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Department of Defense), or for federal employees whose duties expose them daily to vulnerable populations (Bureau of Prisons, Border Patrol, ICE, FEMA, TSA, HHS, SSA, and others).

“The administration’s unrelenting anti-union posture itself poses a public health risk, as its generalized refusal to engage in constructive dialogue with its workforce’s representative denies agencies the benefit of front-line employees’ experience and recommendations,” Kelley added.

AFGE seeks help from members of Congress to protect federal workers

AFGE is asking to meet with members of Congress to discuss protective measures for federal workers who are at risk for contracting the virus.

“Many federal employees have extensive interaction with the general public as part of their regular duties. Of particular concern are those who have been or are likely to be called upon to provide services to populations infected with COVID-19 or populations at risk for infections,” our union said in a letter to members of Congress.

Americans who have been re-patriated after overseas exposure 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.

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.

Our union has also recently learned that a patient with COVID-19 was moved, at the veteran’s request, to the Palo Alto Veterans Medical Center. VA employees are well aware of the Department’s “Fourth Mission” of contingency support during national disasters or other public health emergencies. They understand the role of VA facilities in the National Disaster Medical System. But as part of the recent focus on outsourcing VA medical care to the private sector, this function as well as others has been a low priority in terms of staffing and training.

“Indeed, the 8,000 veterans who reside in the VA’s own skilled nursing facilities are not only at risk for contracting the virus, they are at risk if the homes’ staff become infected and are unable to care for them,” our union added. “The urgency of providing adequate training and protective equipment for VA hospital and nursing home staff cannot be overstated. But the VA has not met with AFGE on this issue either.”

AFGE urges OPM, agencies to allow workers to work from home

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. We also demanded that agency heads work with AFGE at the national, council and local levels to ensure front-line employees are safe.

AFGE’s coronavirus website

The situation involving COVID-19 aka Coronavirus is a rapidly evolving one. Our website at www.afge.org/coronavirus provides bargaining guidance to our local and council leaders on the issue. We are committed to keeping you updated on information regarding the coronavirus and its impact in the United States. Check out our coronavirus website here .


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