Union leaders representing tens of thousands of workers called on Congress Wednesday to provide hazard pay for federal employees conducting essential functions amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Surrounded by workers from the Department of Defense, the federal prison system, the Transportation System Administration (TSA) and more, leaders from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) District 12 urged Congressional leaders to increase the pay and strengthen workplace protections of those on the frontlines.
Federal workers one by one told their stories of working for the public while their own safety is put at risk. They said their employers were not providing enough protective equipment, were not ensuring proper social distancing and cleanliness regulations were followed, and were not and providing them the benefits they need to put their minds at ease.
“Imagine waking up and you're drinking your coffee and you're watching the news and they’re telling you, 'Check this out: Don’t go outside. you're going to get sick.' But then you have to and you're going to work,” said Shaun Jackson, a member of AFGE Local 0063, who represents military commissary workers in San Diego.
TSA officer and AFGE union steward Sean Root claimed agents were only receiving one N95 mask a day, "which is unacceptable."
"We need to take care of the people that take care of us," he said.
A spokesperson for TSA said there is no shortage of masks, gloves, hand sanitizers or wipes for their agents and the items are available to their employees while at work.
Some of the demands made by AFGE Dist. 12, which represents about 40,000 federal employees in California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada, include:
- hazard pay for federal workers deemed essential during the coronavirus outbreak
- safety leave to those who can't telecommute, and more telecommuting options where possible
- more protective equipment like gloves and masks, as well as better guidelines on how to conduct their essential duties
- management must communicate with union representatives
- establish immediately a federal health benefits program for essential federal workers
The move came a day after Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and other Senate Democrats proposed a "heroes" fund, which would provide an about $13 an hour pay increase to essential workers including health care, first responders and federal employees. Each worker could be eligible for up to a $25,000 a year increase but their employers would be responsible for applying for a part of the fund, according to the proposal.