WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) joined a group of five senators in introducing the Federal Labor-Management COVID Partnership Act, a bill that would keep federal workers safe during public health emergencies, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, by creating formal labor-management task forces at both the Executive Branch and agency level. These task forces would be responsible for reviewing current telework, leave, cleaning, and training policies, supplying policy recommendations and giving federal workers an avenue to provide input as the Executive Branch responds to the coronavirus and any future crisis.
“Returning to work prematurely and without a consistent protocol threatens the safety of federal workers and the public they serve during this pandemic,” said the lawmakers. “Our nation’s public servants deserve a say in the policies in place to keep them safe. With these task forces, agencies can develop guidelines that put the safety of their employees first.”
The U.S. Department of Labor expects over 6,000 federal workers to file claims by early next month alleging that they contracted the coronavirus while at work. To address the health and safety of federal workers, the legislation establishes a government-wide directive for agencies to consult and collaborate with employees and their unions to develop and implement policies that address the issues impacting them due to the pandemic. This includes the role of labor organization participation, telework, leave and safety, cleaning and disinfectants, preparedness acquisition and distribution of personal protective equipment, and training.
Currently, public servants are bearing the consequences of policies being imposed without their input, even when decisions threaten their lives. Reportedly, 39,000 federal workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and over 100 of those workers died. Ensuring that labor representatives have the opportunity to communicate regularly with agency management to discuss the needs and concerns of employees is critical to providing safe and secure workplaces for federal workers.
In the past, similar advisory panels have been established by Executive Order under the Clinton and Obama administrations – helping the Department of Commerce institute and optimize telework policies, the Treasury Department retrain employees of the Financial Management Service, and the Patent and Trademark Office reduce patent-application backlogs and processing time. These panels improved employee performance and resulted in greater worker satisfaction.
In addition to U.S. Senators Cardin and Van Hollen, the bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).
The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers have endorsed the bill.
“As the largest union representing federal and D.C. government employees, the American Federation of Government Employees strongly supports Sen. Schatz’s legislation to ensure that agencies uphold their legal obligation to negotiate with employee representatives over policies and proposals that directly impact the health and safety of workers and their families. Some agencies under this current administration have refused to negotiate with the union over the coronavirus or other workplace matters, making the need for this legislation all the more critical,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley.