By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – Unions representing Missouri state workers say Gov. Mike Parson is not doing enough to protect state employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From a lack of personal protective equipment for prison workers to insufficient technical support for office employees working from home, union leaders say the situation is putting front-line workers in danger.
The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak began shutting down offices and showing up in state-run facilities like prisons, juvenile homes and veterans’ homes in March, leaving state officials and union employees scrambling to keep government operations running.
Parson began easing some of the state’s stay-at-home and social distancing rules this week –– despite the active presence of the coronavirus in areas throughout the state –– warning laid-off workers in the public and private sectors that they will be ineligible for unemployment benefits if they refuse to return to their jobs. His administration has even established a portal for employers to report workers who “refuse to return to work.”
But Natashia Pickens, president of CWA 6355, which represents workers at juvenile detention facilities, probation and parole employees and other front-line workers, said, “State workers are not getting the personal protection equipment they need to protect themselves.”
Nancy Cross, vice president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, said the governor’s inaction even extends to office workers who are being forced to work from home using their own computers, even though state equipment is available.
“We’re asking for the governor to step up and do what’s right,” said Cross.
The Parson administration has implemented a hazard pay program for some workers as an incentive to keep them on the job, however, Pickens said the hazard pay is only being allowed in 24/7 facilities like prisons and nursing homes.
Employees in those state-run facilities can receive $500 per month as long as they show up to work every day. But Tim Cutt, grievance officer for the Missouri Corrections Officers Association, said that can lead to employees coming to work even if they are sick because they need the extra money.
“We need to get real,” said Danny Homan, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 61. “It’s time that this governor starts protecting state employees.”
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Missouri Republicans using cover of pandemic to push through bad bills
The Missouri Legislature returned to Jefferson City for an abbreviated end to the session last week, hoping to use the cover of the coronavirus COVID-19 to push through bad legislation.
Committees are combining dozens of bills into single pieces of legislation, some running hundreds of pages long, in hopes of passing many at once and muddying the waters so much that voters won’t notice what they’re up to.
GOP lawmakers returned to business as usual, advancing a plan asking voters to reverse changes they made to the redistricting process with the passage of Amendment 1 (Clean Missouri).
The Senate has already approved the plan, and a House committee advanced it last week, setting the stage for a vote targeting the voter-approved process on how legislative districts are created.
Under Clean Missouri, a nonpartisan demographer would take the first crack at new maps, rather than the usual panels of political appointees. This fairer process could cost conservatives seats in the next decade, so GOP legislators have decided it has to go.
The bill, SJR 38, which some have dubbed “Dirty Missouri,” would completely undo the redistricting reforms approved in Clean Missouri and increase the power of the partisan politicians’ hand-picked redistricting board, asking voters to restore much of the old system, despite their overwhelming support for Clean Missouri.
Among other bills Republican are hoping to push through:
House Bill 1559, which would slash unemployment benefits for workers laid off due to the coronavirus if they received any type of payout due to coronavirus and exempt private and religious school workers from state’s minimum wage requirements.
A plan pushed by a nursing home advocacy group to shield health care providers (including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health and hospice) from civil liability arising out of the coronavirus pandemic, unless the wrongdoing is deemed to be particularly egregious.