San Diego

City Workers Worried About Catching COVID-19 and Their Next Paycheck

NBCUniversal, Inc.

San Diego City workers are struggling with what’s next amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Some workers are furloughed, others have been reassigned, and those who are considered essential and are still on the clock say they are scared to catch the disease while on the job.

"Men and women that work in the field are scared, they're scared for their health, they're scared for their economic security, they're scared for their children," American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 127 President Rodney Fowler Sr. said.

For the last 30 years Fowler Sr., 59, has worked as a sanitation driver helping clear trash for the City of San Diego.

As the AFSCME Local 127 union president, Fowler Sr. represents city employees such as refuse collectors, custodial staff, mechanics and Parks & Recreation Department workers.

Fowler Sr. said he’s had dozens of city workers say they’ve been told to stay home on their own leave time until further notice.

Rodney Fowler Sr.
Rodney Fowler Sr. (right) photographed with other San Diego Environmental Services Department workers before the pandemic.

"It’s unacceptable," said Fowler Sr. "Without a check you don't have anything and you're just at the mercy of the virus or at the mercy of the economics."

Fowler Sr. said he's also worried about city workers who have an underlying condition like asthma or diabetes and are scared of catching the virus while working.

"The City just needs to do a better job reassuring employees that the men and women on the front lines are going to be a priority and they'll make sure they do have the protective equipment that they need to do their jobs," said Fowler Sr.

Full-time workers are entitled to up to two weeks of paid sick leave for a COVID-19-related reason. They can also get up to 10 additional partially-paid weeks classified as family or medical leave for a COVID-19-related school closure. Workers can also tap into their vacation time if they want to keep getting paid.

The city said they have also asked those affected workers if they'd like to volunteer for other jobs like working at the new homeless facility at the convention center.

"They have a lot of concerns, specifically if there is an income coming, but more importantly they worry about their safety and health," he said. "You know you have to be alive in order to get an income."

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