Union tells Trump administration to take coronavirus seriously for government workers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A union representing U.S. government employees called on the Trump administration on Friday “to take the coronavirus seriously” for federal workers, especially those working in areas directly impacted by the outbreak.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which says it represents 700,000 workers, also urged the immediate wider use of teleworking for federal employees across the United States, saying current basic guidelines from agencies are “insufficient and inadequate.” The union said some federal agencies have made a concerted effort to cut back on telework.

“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.

The union sent letters to the Senate and House of Representatives urging members of Congress to help ensure that agency leaders meet with its representatives to discuss safety, training and communications issues raised by the coronavirus.

“We need the support of prominent members of Congress in order to prompt agency officials to recognize the risks facing the federal workforce,” one letter said.

AFGE said the coronavirus poses a particular threat to federal workers at military bases and Veterans Administration (VA) facilities that are used in public health emergencies.

Civilian Defense Department workers failed to receive adequate training for minimizing the infection risk at military bases in California and Texas that housed Americans expatriated from coronavirus hot zones overseas, according to the union.

“The 8,000 veterans who reside in the VA’s own skilled nursing facilities are not only at risk for contracting the virus, they are at risk if the homes’ staff become infected and are unable to care for them,” Kelley said in a letter to Congress.

Reporting by Susan Heavey and David Morgan, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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