WASHINGTON – Today, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Local 518, representing employees at the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) in Atlanta, Ga., expressed outrage after VCL management denied employees the ability to telework as a safety precaution after a VCL employee tested positive for coronavirus.
“VA is not taking this crisis seriously, and they are putting employee lives in jeopardy. Since February, the union has been telling management to get high-risk employees out of the building,” said Marcia Blane, AFGE Local 518 president. “On any given shift there are nearly 70 employees, without any personal protective equipment, working in cubicles less than six feet apart, and sharing a single, working elevator. How can the VA honestly believe they are protecting employees?”
On March 23, an overnight shift employee at VCL returned to work after being tested for the coronavirus. The employee received a positive test result on later in the week, but it was not until the end of the day on March 30 that the VCL notified employees that their colleague tested positive. Since the announcement, many employees at the VCL and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Member Services – who share the facility – have had to use their personal leave to get tested and to self-quarantine.
“If an employee gets tested for COVID-19 they should absolutely be required to telework or be placed on administrative leave until they receive their test results to avoid putting others at risk,” added Blane. “It is my worry that symptomatic employees will come into work because they don’t have enough leave saved.”
Employees at the Veterans Crisis Line are trained professionals who provide assistance to veterans undergoing personal crises. The employees are uniquely qualified in dealing with the complex issues faced by veterans of all ages.
“Each day we speak to hundreds of panicked, stressed out, and sometimes suicidal, veterans from across the country. If our services are disrupted because the VA didn’t take appropriate steps to protect employees, where will these veterans turn?” Blane continued. “VCL employees must be allowed to telework until the coronavirus pandemic is under control.”
For the latest news and information about the coronavirus, visit www.afge.org/coronavirus.