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Letter to the Hon. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, and Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader - Watson Coleman, Pocan, Carbajal, 150 Other Members of Congress Request Increased Protections for Frontline Federal Workers

Letter

By: Gwen Moore, Ron Kind, Adam Smith, Pramila Jayapal, Derek Kilmer, Rick Larsen, Peter Welch, Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger, Donald McEachin, Bobby Scott, Elaine Luria, Eddie Johnson, Sheila Jackson Lee, Jim Langevin, Conor Lamb, Mary Scanlon, Tim Ryan, Marcia Kaptur, Brian Higgins, Joe Morelle, Paul Tonko, José Serrano, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Carolyn Maloney, Max Rose, Jerry Nadler, Hakeem Jeffries, Nydia Velázquez, Grace Meng, Gregory Meeks, Thomas Suozzi, Dina Titus, Mikie Sherrill, Don Payne, Jr., Bill Pascrell, Jr., Albio Sires, Tom Malinowski, Andy Kim, Donald Norcross, Ann Kuster, Chris Pappas, David Price, Bennie Thompson, Ilhan Omar, Betty McCollum, Dean Phillips, Brenda Lawrence, Rashida Tlaib, Andy Levin, Dan Kildee, Chellie Pingree, Jamie Raskin, David Trone, John Sarbanes, Stephen Lynch, Ayanna Pressley, Seth Moulton, Joe Kennedy III, Lori Trahan, Jim McGovern, Richard Neal, John Yarmuth, Brad Schneider, Jan Schakowsky, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Robin Kelly, Bobby Rush, Dave Loebsack, David Scott, Lucy McBath, Hank Johnson, Jr., Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, Sr., Darren Soto, Eleanor Norton, Jahana Hayes, John Larson, Ed Perlmutter, Joe Neguse, Scott Peters, Juan Vargas, Mike Levin, Alan Lowenthal, Katie Porter, Mark Takano, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Linda Sánchez, Grace Napolitano, Jimmy Panetta, Zoe Lofgren, Ro Khanna, Jackie Speier, Barbara Lee, Jerry McNerney, Jared Huffman, Ann Kirkpatrick, Mark Pocan, Suzan DelBene, Don Beyer, Jr., Joaquin Castro, Veronica Escobar, Al Green, Steve Cohen, David Cicilline, Madeleine Dean, Dwight Evans, Brendan Boyle, Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Anthony Gonzalez, Marcia Fudge, Joyce Beatty, Eliot Engel, Adriano Espaillat, Yvette Clarke, Deb Haaland, Alma Adams, G.K. Butterfield, Jr., Emanuel Cleaver II, Lacy Clay, Jr., Debbie Dingell, Anthony Brown, Katherine Clark, Sharice Davids, André Carson, Cheri Bustos, Bill Foster, Danny Davis, Jesus Garcia, Cindy Axne, Abby Finkenauer, Tulsi Gabbard, Sanford Bishop, Jr., Val Demings, Lisa Blunt Rochester, Rosa DeLauro, Joe Courtney, Jason Crow, Diana DeGette, Nanette Barragán, Karen Bass, Pete Aguilar, Judy Chu, Julia Brownley, Salud Carbajal, T. J. Cox, Anna Eshoo, Jim Costa, Josh Harder, Ruben Gallego, Raul Grijalva, Bonnie Watson Coleman
Date: April 27, 2020

Dear Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy:

As you continue negotiations to craft further legislation to respond to the impacts of the COVID19 pandemic, we ask that you include language supporting federal workers on the frontlines who
bear a significant share of the burden in responding to this crisis. These include:

- health care providers and support personnel at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA),
the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Bureau of Prisons (BoP);
- frontline emergency responders including employees at the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA);
- employees whose jobs require regular contact with the public, such as Transportation
Security Officers (TSOs) at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), staff work
in Social Security Administration (SSA) field offices, and VA Regional Offices;
- inspectors at the Food Safety Inspection Food Safety Inspection Service who keep our meat
and poultry safe;
- and dedicated public servants elsewhere in DoD, VA, and the Department of Homeland
Security.

Based on preliminary numbers, thousands of workers -- federal and non-federal -- have already
been confirmed to have contracted the virus, most of which are likely due to workplace exposure.
This is why it is so important that future legislation include language which would require the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard to
protect all workers from exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.

Further, as federal workers continue to ensure that critical operations continue during this
pandemic, many have already contracted COVID-19, some have died, and thousands more remain
at risk for infection. This is why it is critical that any new legislation to respond to this pandemic
include provisions to protect and support federal workers. We respectfully request inclusion of the
following language to protect federal workers:

1) Hazardous Duty Pay: Further legislation responding to COVID-19 must provide
hazardous duty pay differentials and environmental differential pay to federal employees
who are required to continue to report to work and risk exposure to COVID-19 to perform of their duties. Federal employees require to report to duty are in immediate danger of
exposure, and current protocols unfortunately provide no guarantee of protection. We must
protect employees who are required to work in facilities such as hospitals, prisons, airports,
military depots and arsenals, as well as other federal campuses.
2) Presumption of Workplace Illness: It is essential that future legislation aimed at helping
Americans respond to COVID-19 provide an automatic presumption of workplace illness
for employees who contract COVID-19 through the performance of their duties. Many
federal employees continue to interact with members of the public to perform their duties.
But they do this without adequate personal protective equipment, training, and guidance.
As a result, the number of federal employees who must be quarantined or who have been
diagnosed with COVID-19 is increasing rapidly every day. A workplace presumption of
illness would allow federal employees who have contracted the virus through the
performance of their duties to make a claim without facing a potentially lengthy process
that is further complicated by the science of this virus.
3) Weather and Safety Leave: While many federal employees continue to report to their
duty stations, some cannot. This is why further legislation must 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
pandemic. The use of weather and safety leave will help prevent the spread of COVID-19
and ensure that federal employees are not reporting for duty and risking exposure to the
virus, or exposing other federal workers or the public.
4) Telework: We also request that further legislation include language expanding telework
to all federal employees who can still perform their duties remotely to minimize the spread
of COVID-19. However, if employees are not able to perform their duties remotely and
they are not required to report to work they should be placed on weather and safety leave.
5) Labor-Management Relations: While Congress continues to enact COVID-19 relief
legislation with directives to federal agencies, executive orders issued in May 2018
governing federal workforce personnel continue to serve as barriers to labor-management
collaboration. In the face of this pandemic, it is important to restore labor-management
relations and communication as agencies work to quickly implement new policies and
workplace procedures. The unique role labor representatives play means it is critical that
they have the opportunity to communicate regularly with management to discuss the needs
and concerns of employees as they respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
6) Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) Enrollment Opportunity:
Agencies such as TSA, DOD, and FEMA rely on the flexibilities of having a large segment
of their workforces on part-time schedules. For complex reasons, including the fact that the
employee-share of FEHBP premiums for career part-time federal employees is much
higher than for full-time employees, many career part-time federal employees are not
enrolled in FEHBP. In the face of this pandemic, contracting COVID-19 ought to be considered as a "qualifying life event," giving federal employees who are not currently
enrolled in a FEHBP health plan the opportunity to purchase health care coverage. Future
legislation opening FEHBP enrollment for COVID-19 positive workers is the least
Congress can do to eliminate artificial barriers to medical treatment for federal employees
during this crisis.
7) Equal Rights for the Federal Workforce. In March 2020, the House passed H.R. 1140,
the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act, with a strong bipartisan vote; we
request that this critical language be included in future legislation. As Congress works to
equip the federal workforce and keep employees healthy to fight COVID-19, federal
employees who do not fall under title 5 of the U.S. Code have been inadvertently
overlooked. We must ensure parity for all federal employees instead of continuing separate
and unequal personnel management systems. Further, the more than 400 TSOs confirmed
to have contracted COVID-19, and four deaths among TSA staff raises concerns about the
efficacy of this dual management system.

In closing, we thank you for your leadership during this critical time. As Congress works to prepare
the country to re-open, the federal workforce is bravely working to ensure that the American public
continues to receive essential services and benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why
we request that you include the above worker safety provisions in future COVID-19 response
legislation.


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