Trump Administration’s War on Workers Comes Back to Haunt Them as Agencies Bungle Response to Coronavirus Outbreak

Categories: The Insider, Coronavirus

Confusion. Chaos. Fear.

According to reports from the frontlines, federal managers are failing in their response to the coronavirus outbreak that has infected more than 155,000 people and killed at least 2,800 in the United States.

There remains a critical shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, respirators, and gloves that puts frontline federal employees in danger.

While the administration has recently taken steps to encourage the expansion of telework, it was slow to act initially and the actual implementation on the ground has been haphazard and insufficient. Employees are being instructed to telework, then recalled because of issues with IT infrastructure. Some high-risk employees are being asked to come into the office and risk exposure to coronavirus in order to get training on telework because of the administration’s initial delays.

At the same time that the administration should have been preparing for this epidemic by expanding telework opportunities, performing network reliability tests, and ordering massive amounts of PPE, agencies like the Department of Veterans Affairs were busy kicking unions out of offices, disbanding joint labor-management cooperation teams including health and safety committees, and forcing employee representatives off government email systems – creating artificial barriers to information flow between frontline employees and management and making it more difficult for agencies to respond in real time to the needs of employees trying to curb the spread of the disease.

This is on top of the administration’s efforts to force out scientists, researchers, and other employees governmentwide and to keep agencies like the VA short-staffed on purpose so they can privatize functions. The administration’s war on workers is now coming back to haunt them.

Here are examples of how federal agencies have bungled their response to the coronavirus outbreak, putting employees in harm’s way, according to our internal survey:

  • The Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Ft. Gordon, Ga.

“I was exposed to the first positive case on post. They texted some staff about it but didn’t let me know until Monday that this test came back positive. I have underlying health issues and I’m non-emergency essential. I told this to my union leader, so she called HR. They told me to come to work and wear a mask and they were going to relocate us to work outside in the drive-by testing. That’s their response.”

  • Military grocery stores, nationwide

“We were notified by many stores across the U.S. that no extra cleaning has been done. Employees are working in an unsafe work environment doing high volume sales. Employees don't have enough time to do their job and do extra cleaning. Many employees aren't allowed to wash their hands every hour and many of them are the cashiers. Many stores aren't providing Personal Protection Equipment to employees like face masks, face shields, gloves at cash registers.”

  • General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, Fort Leonard wood, Mo.

“We are to wear N95 masks only if a patient is suspected of having covid-19. We are to re-use the mask if the patient is not exhibiting symptoms by placing it in a brown sack. If patients are asymptomatic, we are using universal precautions only.”

  • VA hospital, Topeka, Kansas:

“They said all we need are the surgical masks when there is a suspected COVID-19. When swabbing, we can add goggles, gown, and gloves. Here is my issue. The people standing outside can wear face shields (some are also wearing surgical masks) just to screen everyone for COVID-19. We were face to face with veterans with no protection assessing veterans who were presenting. Now if we test positive, we have to use our leave and insurance. I understand they only want N95 masks used with positive cases because we don't have enough, but there are asymptomatic people out there, still putting us at risk.”

  • TSA, Romulus, Mich.:

“I was told that if your contact with someone infected was less than 10 minutes, you will be fine. Where did they find the 10 min rule? Also why are officers being told they cannot take the 14-day leave?”

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.:

“We were told there aren’t any masks or hand sanitizer available.”

  • ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, Los Fresnos, Texas:

Just the emails from HQ stating to follow CDC guidelines And we are going to start telework, but as of date no ppe was given to employees, rumor had it would be handed out as needed and we would have to sign it out. But officers have traveled to NY and we have worked beside them for last week.

  • SSA office, Tacoma, Wash.:

“Field offices are closed to the public, but employees are here. Call centers are open with all staff coming into the office. Telework is only for parents whose children are affected by school closures and those who can provide medical documentation showing they are in a vulnerable group. When will we all be able to telework? What happens with someone who was exposed to the virus but has no symptoms yet?”

  • VA facility, Salisbury, N.C.

“Telework information was not made available to us until we asked on 3/23. We found out it was the last day to request and had to scramble to submit. No information has been shared from leadership while THEY are teleworking!”

  • VA facility, Ft. Wayne, Ind.

“Individuals were denied telework due to the network bogging down and possibly crashing. They also stated that we were not allowed to wear masks to cause hysteria.”

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