Lawmakers Vow to Fight for Hazardous Pay, PPE, Telework during AFGE Tele-Town Hall

Categories: The Insider, Coronavirus

<< Watch the tele-town hall on Facebook>>

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Takano, Sen. Sherrod Brown, and Rep. Elaine Luria joined a tele-town hall hosted by the AFGE National VA Council the night of April 29, vowing to address important issues such as hazard duty pay, personal protective equipment (PPE), and telework as the country’s battling the coronavirus outbreak.

As Congress plans on negotiating the next stimulus bill (CARES 2) in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, AFGE leaders and activists working at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country turned to their members of Congress for help regarding a lack of PPE, hazard pay, telework, testing, and the VA’s failure to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.

Speaking from home in Ohio, Senator Brown thanked AFGE members for the work that they do serving veterans. He reiterated the importance of getting workers adequate PPE and the need to provide hazard pay and ‘hero’ bonuses in the next stimulus bill.

He praised AFGE and the labor movement as a whole for our role protecting workers during this pandemic.

“My pledge is to continue to fight for this union,” the senator said. “You honor veterans by going to work every day and taking care of them. You are your country’s and your union’s heroes and you are the backbone of this country. That’s why I wanted to be with you tonight.”

Chairman Takano said the lack of PPE has been a top concern because if the VA staff gets sick, they won’t be able to take care of veterans. He discussed pressing the VA to make sure employees who can telework are allowed to since telework is critical to prevent exposure to COVID-19. He wanted to make sure VA employees are able to file a workers’ compensation claim for COVID-19 without having to jump through hoops. He expressed admiration for frontline workers who still show up for work even though they don’t have enough PPE.

He also agreed with AFGE’s proposal that federal workers should receive hazard pay.

“I’m going to continue to press for hazard pay in the next CARES legislation,” said Takano.

Rep. Luria of Virginia agreed that the lack of PPE and telework tools was very concerning especially because Congress has been trying to make sure the VA has enough of the resources that they need.

“It’s discouraging to continue to hear stories from the frontlines that the policies are not being implemented uniformly or in a common-sense way,” said Luria.

As a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, she vowed to make sure VA employees across the country have a safe workplace.

Stories from the frontlines

Several NVAC leaders participated in the tele-town hall, which was moderated by AFGE President Dr. Everett Kelley. Besides NVAC President Alma Lee, local leaders across the country tuned in to detail what was going on at their facilities.

Pamela Brown of Local 2031, for example, talked about the Cincinnati VA’s failure to follow the CDC’s safe distancing guideline. Employees are sitting in a group setting only two feet apart. Employees are given one mask per week, including the screeners who have to come in contact with dozens of people a day. The VA is reopening the dental clinic, but the assistants’ only protection is surgical masks. Employees who have been exposed to COVID-19 patients and have to quarantine have to use their own leave.

Dee Mitchell of Local 1061 in California discussed rationing of PPE, the fact that managers telework more than employees and only a few people get hazard pay.

Stacy Shorter of Local 2228 in Virginia talked about the lack of PPE at the Hampton VA, the union’s successful attempt to get PPE donations from the community, and management’s refusal to allow the union to email employees about the availability of the donated PPE, citing Trump’s 2018 executive order prohibiting the union from using government email for “union business.”

Linda Ward-Smith of Local 1224 in Las Vegas discussed management’s refusal to allow employees to telework even though their work allows them to work remotely – like telehealth nurses and community care employees who talk on the phone all day. She also talked about how hard it is for workers who contracted the virus to file a worker’s compensation claim. Even though their work is not direct patient care, they have to come into the office and sit next to each other all day. So far 23 employees have tested positive.

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


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