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Unions Want More Teleworking Amid Coronavirus

Some want telework, while other negotiate increased safety measures

Brian Young's picture
Mar 06, 2020

Turn on the news and the lead story every day is about coronavirus. As the virus spread across Asia and Europe many offices began preparing for an outbreak in the United States and what that might mean for their workforces. Some have begun preparing for long stretches of employees working from home and telecommuting, but bosses need to approve this.

The National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have warned that “If the disease begins to spread in U.S. communities, containment may no longer be a realistic goal and response efforts likely will need to transition to various mitigation strategies, which could include isolating ill people at home, closing schools and encouraging telework.” Yet federal workers are worried that this won’t be possible. Over the last few years, many agencies have rolled back telework flexibility with the Agriculture Department, Social Security Administration, and Education Department being the worst. Now federal unions are urging Trump to take the virus seriously and implement a comprehensive telecommuting plan.

"Many federal employees are in direct contact with the public, in some cases working in areas where people have tested positive for the coronavirus or been quarantined, yet they have been provided no protective equipment or specific information on how to avoid infection," AFGE President Everett Kelley said in a statement.

In the private sector unions are also pushing for a better federal response. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) stated: “In general, the industry has far exceeded government instruction, but a coordinated, thorough response from our government is what is needed.”

Many unions are also reminding their members that thanks to their hard work, they have paid sick leave and healthcare in their contracts. They are encouraging their members to use it if they become ill. Other unions are still in the early stages of working with their employers to create a guideline of what to do if their employees come down with the virus, including the CWA who have set up a procedure for locals to report what an employer is doing to keep their workforce safe. This will allow the union to push the company to take greater measures if they are leaving their employees vulnerable to infection.  In the meantime, many are informing their members about how to stay safe. For tips from the CDC, click here.

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