WASHINGTON – The union representing health care workers at veterans’ hospitals and correctional officers at federal prisons says the government is endangering employees, patients, and whole communities by failing to take recommended actions to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Council 53, representing 260,000 employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and Council 33, representing more than 30,000 correctional officers and staff at the Bureau of Prisons, have filed individual complaints with the Department of Labor charging that the two agencies are violating Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) laws by failing to keep workplaces free from known hazards.
Both the VA and BOP have directed staff who have come in contact with or been in close proximity to individuals who have shown symptoms of the virus to report to work without regard to the 14-day self-quarantine guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, AFGE’s complaints assert. BOP has even recalled staff who have been screened and ordered home due to possible exposure within 48 hours of suspected infection.
The VA has further violated OSHA standards by failing to provide workers with N-95 respirators and other necessary personal protective equipment, failing to isolate suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients, and refusing to provide COVID-19 testing to employees who have been exposed to those known or suspected of having the virus.
BOP has violated OSHA standards by continuing to transfer inmates across prisons, including moving inmates who have tested positive for or been exposed to COVID-19 into areas of the country without any rate of coronavirus infection. Also, BOP has allowed inmates to continue to gather in group settings and has failed to provide N-95 masks to custodial staff and officers transporting inmates who have tested positive.
“The federal government is failing to do everything it can to protect workers who are on the front lines of this health-care crisis, and in some cases it is willfully doing the opposite – exposing not only workers but vulnerable populations to this deadly virus,” AFGE National President Everett Kelley said. “These actions and inactions are inexcusable and are literally endangering people’s lives.”
For the latest coronavirus news, visit www.afge.org/coronavirus.