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Schatz Introduces New Bill To Protect Health And Safety Of Federal Workers During COVID-19 Pandemic, Ensure Federal Workers Have A Voice In Creating Emergency Response Policies

Bill Establishes Government-Wide Advisory Task Forces To Promote Dialogue Between Federal Workers And Agency Management; More Than 39,000 Federal Workers Have Contracted COVID-19

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) led a group of six senators in introducing the Federal Labor-Management COVID Partnership Act, a bill that would keep federal workers safe during public health emergencies, including the current COVID-19 pandemic, by creating formal labor-management task forces at both the Executive Branch and agency level. These task forces would be responsible for reviewing current telework, leave, cleaning, and training policies, supplying policy recommendations and giving federal workers an avenue to provide input as the Executive Branch responds to the coronavirus and any future crisis.

“This bill is about protecting our federal workers during the COVID pandemic,” said Senator Schatz. “By promoting a constructive dialogue between federal agencies and public servants, these task forces will help make sure the federal government creates good policy for its workers.”

The U.S. Department of Labor expects over 6,000 federal workers to file claims by early next month alleging that they contracted the coronavirus while at work. To address the health and safety of federal workers, the legislation establishes a government-wide directive for agencies to consult and collaborate with employees and their unions to develop and implement policies that address the issues impacting them due to the pandemic. This includes the role of labor organization participation, telework, leave and safety, cleaning and disinfectants, preparedness acquisition and distribution of personal protective equipment, and training. 

Currently, public servants are bearing the consequences of policies being imposed without their input, even when decisions threaten their lives. Reportedly, 39,000 federal workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and over 100 of those workers died. Ensuring that labor representatives have the opportunity to communicate regularly with agency management to discuss the needs and concerns of employees is critical to providing safe and secure workplaces for federal workers

In the past, similar advisory panels have been established by Executive Order under the Clinton and Obama administrations – helping the Department of Commerce institute and optimize telework policies, the Treasury Department retrain employees of the Financial Management Service, and the Patent and Trademark Office reduce patent-application backlogs and processing time. These panels improved employee performance and resulted in greater worker satisfaction.

Schatz’s bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

The bill has been endorsed by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers.

“As the largest union representing federal and D.C. government employees, the American Federation of Government Employees strongly supports Sen. Schatz’s legislation to ensure that agencies uphold their legal obligation to negotiate with employee representatives over policies and proposals that directly impact the health and safety of workers and their families. Some agencies under this current administration have refused to negotiate with the union over the coronavirus or other workplace matters, making the need for this legislation all the more critical,” said AFGE National President Everett Kelley.