WASHINGTON – The administration’s well-documented hostility toward labor unions and workers’ rights is complicating federal efforts to respond to the coronavirus as agencies are refusing to negotiate with the largest federal employee union over how best to protect federal workers and the public they serve.
Federal agencies including the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) have refused to bargain with the American Federation of Government Employees over actions these agencies have taken or should be taking in response to the coronavirus.
“Federal employees deserve a seat at the table when decisions are being made that affect the work that they do – especially when those decisions could also affect their personal health and safety,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “Silencing their voices at a time when the decisions being made literally have life and death consequences is not only illegal, it’s morally wrong.”
Decisions regarding telework, leave policies, distribution of personal protective equipment, and related matters are being made unilaterally by agencies without any attempt to negotiate with federal unions. As a result, policies are being developed and implemented haphazardly, and employees are receiving disparate and sometimes conflicting messages.
The VA is hiding behind the administration’s three anti-worker executive orders, issued in May 2018, to justify failing to include labor unions and front-line health care workers in meetings and discussions on how to respond to the coronavirus. Barring these national discussions, AFGE has attempted to bargain changes at the local level but these efforts, too, have been rebuffed.
“By eliminating labor-management committees, kicking union officials out of facilities, rolling back telework agreements, and blocking our efforts to communicate with employees – just for starters – the VA is putting up artificial barriers that are hampering efforts to respond to this pandemic in a coordinated fashion,” said Alma Lee, president of AFGE’s National VA Council, which represents 260,000 VA workers nationwide.
Homeland Security agencies including FEMA and CIS also have rejected AFGE’s negotiation attempts. CIS notified AFGE on Wednesday that it intends to “suspend all notice and bargaining over any actions the Agency has taken or may take in response to the CPOVID-10 pandemic emergency.”
“Using this national emergency as an excuse for failing to negotiate with us is absurd, let alone illegal, and it is leaving employees more vulnerable than ever at a time when literally their health and safety is on the line,” said Danielle Spooner, president of AFGE Council 119, which represents about 13,000 CIS employees nationwide.
For the latest news and information about the coronavirus, visit www.afge.org/coronavirus.