Federal unions are saying that lack of information and cooperation from federal agencies is adding to the stress of the Coronavirus pandemic for federal employees, resulting in a growing number of formal and informal complaints.
Relations between the unions and the Trump administration always have been strained at best, especially so since the issuance in 2018 of three executive orders to restrict bargaining, official time, grievance procedures and other union activities.
Among the issues is the lack of an accounting of how many federal employees have been infected and under what conditions, information that could indicate where protections are inadequate.
Several agencies are reporting that information individually, most notably the TSA which reported nearly 400 infections and three deaths as of Tuesday. The number government-wide is considered to be in the thousands, with at least nine deaths.
Similarly, there is no accounting of how many employees eligible to telework are actually doing so, how widely hazardous duty pay is being paid to employees at the highest risk of exposure, and how many employees from closed offices who cannot telework are being paid weather and safety leave—all also possible topics for union involvement.
The AFGE said this week that at numerous agencies, employees “have expressed fear of reporting to their facility, citing having to work in close quarters with others with no available” personal protective equipment and that some employees who could telework still are being required to report to their regular duty stations.
AFGE and other of unions representing VA employees further said that agency officials have refused to meet with them, “citing the executive orders. This has resulted in anxious workers and unsafe work environments.”
The administration also repealed an Obama administration program of labor-management cooperation, which unions say would have been a mechanism for addressing some of the workplace issues currently arising.
One instance of a successful collaboration despite that repeal—an agreement between the NTEU union and the CBP to reduce the public-facing hours of employees at ports of entry at a time when activity is down significantly—meanwhile been revoked by the agency.
“The cooperation that led to the adjusted schedules was a model of how our federal government can operate with efficiency and effectiveness when labor and management work together,” NTEU said in a letter to the agency, adding that it has asked for information about the staffing needs the agency cited “but there has been no response.”