6 things Congress can do to protect frontline government workers

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As the number of Covid-19 cases climbs and lawmakers are drafting legislation in response to the outbreak, there are a number of things members of Congress can do to ensure health and safety of federal workers who are working on the frontlines to protect and serve the American people during the pandemic, American Federation of Government Employees urges.

Because of workplace exposure, at least nine civilian federal workers have died of the virus and thousands more have tested positive. The real numbers could be a lot higher since there is no uniformed method for federal agencies to report COVID-19 cases and related deaths.

Now more than ever, these frontline workers need lawmakers’ support to do their jobs. As Congress works to pass the next coronavirus relief legislation, here are six things they can include in the bill that would make a difference:

1. Hazardous Duty Pay: Provide hazardous duty pay differentials and environmental differential pay to federal employees who are required to report to work and risk exposure to COVID-19 through their jobs in hospitals, prisons, airports, military depots and arsenals and other federal campuses.

2. Presumption of Workplace Illness: Amend the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA), the law that governs workers’ compensation for federal employees, to provide an automatic presumption of workplace illness for employees who contract COVID-19 through the performance of their duties.

3. Telework: Require all agencies to expand telework to all employees who can perform their duties remotely to minimize the spread of COVID19.

4. Weather and Safety Leave: Provide weather and safety leave to all employees who are not able to perform their duties remotely and who cannot travel to their duty station because of health and safety risks as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

5. Labor-Management Relations: Restore Labor-management relations and communication as agencies work to quickly implement new policies and workplace procedures during this health care crisis. The Trump administration’s anti-worker Executive Orders issued in May 2018 prevents union representatives from communicating on the job with their members. Union reps can provide important ideas and feedback as agencies work to adapt to this new environment and respond to the needs of the public.

6. Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) Enrollment Opportunity: Amend current law to allow for a public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic to be considered as a “qualifying life event,” giving federal employees who are not currently enrolled in a federal health plan the opportunity to purchase health care coverage, and allow current enrollees to make changes to their existing plans.

“The federal workforce is bravely working to ensure that the American public continues to receive important services and benefits during the COVID-19 crisis,” said AFGE President Everett Kelley in a letter to members of the House and the Senate. “We ask that you please urge your leadership to include the above worker safety provisions in future COVID-19 response legislation.”

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