WASHINGTON – The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 260,000 employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs, is calling out VA leadership for defending their decision not to provide hazard pay to front-line health care providers who are risking their health and safety as they work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
AFGE National President Everett Kelley issued the following statement:
“It is preposterous to say that front-line VA employees are not due hazard pay because the VA has finally begun to provide employees with the protections they’ve been asking for since the beginning of this pandemic. That is a slap in the face to the employees who continue to put their health at risk each day, to the 1,300 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19, and to the 28 families who have lost a loved one due to being exposed to the virus at work.
“For weeks AFGE members sounded the alarm about the lack of PPE and unsafe supply distribution policies at VA facilities across the county. VA employees were, and still are, afraid to go to their worksite due to the risk of being exposed to the virus. Instead of listening to front-line employees and providing them with the equipment necessary to protect themselves while they care for veterans, the VA told the Wall Street Journal that ‘all employees who need PPE have it,’ they told Bloomberg that claims made by AFGE in a national Occupational Safety and Health Administration complaint were ‘false’, and advised journalists that it would be ‘irresponsible’ to publicize employee claims about shortages of PPE. Then, after action by AFGE members, the VA changed their tune.
“The VA also failed to stop the hazard in many places. Compounded with the lack of PPE, they told employees to continue coming to work after known exposures. Some employees were tested and told to continue coming to work until the results came in. This happened in Loma Linda, Birmingham, and Indianapolis. Others failed to inform employees when they knew of positive results, leaving exposed employees to continue possible exposures of others. Until the VA fixes their PPE and leave issues, they cannot mitigate the hazard sufficiently.
“If this administration and VA leadership would have put their pride aside and listened to front-line employees, we could have more effectively mitigated risks to employees from the beginning. Unfortunately, it took numerous actions from AFGE members and our brothers and sisters at VA facilities across the country, and the calls for answers from Congress and the press, before VA leadership finally acknowledged the shortage of PPE – but by that time it was too late, employees were already sick and dying.
“AFGE will continue to advocate on behalf of the courageous men and women at the VA, and for all federal and D.C. government employees across the country. All front-line employees who have been or could have been exposed to COVID-19 while on the job and were not provided the proper protective equipment – at any point during this pandemic – deserve hazard pay. To say the opposite is insulting to all front-line men and women who have risked the health of themselves, their families and their communities to serve the American people.”