Gov. Parson ignored union’s call to implement safety protocols
By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – More than a hundred state employees who work inside the Truman State Office Building in Jefferson City were sent home last week after 15 workers tested positive for COVID-19.
Gov. Mike Parson ordered state workers back to the office on May 17, drawing immediate criticism from employees and the Missouri State Workers Union-CWA Local 6355.
Local 6355 President Natashia Pickens sent a letter to Parson in early June signed by more than 30 members of the Missouri House of about his plan to force state workers back to the office without adequate health and safety protections, and called on the governor to implement the union’s basic safety demands.
Parson ignored the letter.
“Sadly, this week’s COVID-19 outbreak at the Truman Building in Jefferson City shows that our concern was warranted,” Pickens said in an email to the Labor Tribune.
“On behalf of the 7,000 members of the Missouri State Workers Union-CWA Local 6355, I am once again calling on Governor Parson to take action now to prevent more workers from getting sick. Unless Governor Parson takes action to put the protocols we recommended in place, I fear that this outbreak will not be the last,” she said.
The union’s recommendations include:
- That Missouri state employees receive paid time off to get a COVID-19 vaccine if they have not yet received it.
- That the state work with the union on safety protocols including COVID-19 testing, mask usage, social distancing and air purification.
- That the state provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to all state employees, including but not limited to masks, hand sanitizer and gloves.
- That no employee be disciplined or lose pay if forced to take time off due to COVID-19 infection.
- That the state create a process for workers who have family and childcare responsibilities to request a delayed return to work to give them time to make necessary arrangements.
PUTTING WORKERS AND THE PUBLIC AT RISK
With only 39.1 percent of the state’s population fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Missouri’s COVID-19 vaccination rate remains low,” Pickens said, “and new, highly contagious variants have begun circulating. The people of Missouri depend on the essential work that we do; by putting us at risk the governor also jeopardizes their well-being.”
Fueled in large part by the fast-spreading Delta variant of the coronavirus, the number of new coronavirus cases in Missouri began rising after months of decline,
The state reported more than 3,628 new cases last week – an increase of nearly 20 percent over the prior week – and the state’s seven-day COVID case average went above 600 for the first time since February.
The Delta variant was first detected in Missouri in the spring and has since spread quickly throughout the state, according to state health officials.
Dr. George Turabelidze, an epidemiologist at the state Department of Health and Senior Services, said the Delta variant accounts for about half of the cases involving variants in Missouri.
“There’s no doubt the virus is increasing in Missouri,” he said in a recent briefing. “The Delta variant is especially concerning. Compared to other viruses that have emerged before, it seems to be more transmissible.”
Dr. Hilary Babcock, an infectious disease specialist at BJC HealthCare, said the Delta variant is more contagious than earlier forms of the virus, and appears to make people sicker.
The two-part Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have both proven to be effective at keeping people from developing severe cases of COVID-19 caused by the variant, she said, but only if they receive both doses.