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With COVID Surging, State Workers Are Worried About Returning To Their Workplaces - The Public Employees Federation Asks: “Why Pour Gasoline On A Fire? Why Force More Members To Take That Risk And Return To Agency Buildings?”

Published Monday, November 16, 2020
by Brendan J. Lyons/Albany Times Union
With COVID Surging, State Workers Are Worried About Returning To Their Workplaces - The Public Employees Federation Asks: “Why Pour Gasoline On A Fire?  Why Force More Members To Take That Risk And Return To Agency Buildings?”

(ALBANY, NEW YORK) - State Government Workers are being called back to the workplace more frequently in recent weeks, even as New York State is experiencing a surge in some areas in the rate of people testing positive for COVID-19.

That surge, which in some areas is concentrated in hot spots, has prompted Governor Andrew M. Cuomo to impose a statewide 10 p.m. curfew on bars, restaurants and gyms.

Cuomo also issued a directive that indoor and outdoor gatherings be limited to a maximum of 10 people until further notice, including Thanksgiving meals.

But some Labor Leaders are questioning why many State Workers are being directed to return to workplaces if the state, and the Nation, appear to be in the midst of a second wave of the Coronavirus.

In early October, New York’s largest Public Employee Unions struck an agreement with the Cuomo Administration to extend telecommuting provisions until 2021.

It was the third extension of the agreement allowing State Employees to request work-from-home arrangements through January 1st.

However, that agreement did not prohibit the state from having Workers return to their offices.

In a statement to local leaders of the Public Employees Federation (PEF), the state's second-largest Labor Union, President Wayne Spence urged Union Officials to request immediate Labor-Management meetings "to discuss health and safety issues surrounding 'return-to-work' plans."

"I understand the confusion that is created when the Governor makes declarations which contradict your agencies' actions," Spence wrote in the memo. "Many PEF Members are mission critical and have continued to enter workplaces each day throughout this pandemic, in spite of the health risks to them and their loved ones.  So why pour gasoline on a fire?  Why force more members to take that risk and return to agency buildings?​  Many PEF Members have been telecommuting safely from home, so of course there are not huge COVID upticks among state workers - yet."

In May, figures provided to The Times Union by Cuomo's office indicated that at 59 agencies, departments, offices and commissions, there were more than 36,000 people working remotely out of nearly 120,000 State Government Workers.

A spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), the state's largest Labor Union, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A spokesman for the Division of Budget, which tracks the number of State Government Employees who are telecommuting, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The telecommuting agreement allows State Employees to work from home up to five days per week at the approval of an Employee’s supervisors and human resources department.

To Directly Access This Labor News Report, Go To: www.timesunion.com/news/article/COVID-surging-unsettling-state-workers-returning-15726258.php?utm_campaign=CMS&fbclid=IwAR2t4dkUK7ZLCrJFp_VvctdOrFGwmLaIxNg7U3a35EbDPJoHRcoSg65zm5o

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