Washington D.C. – Temporary shift adjustments for critical personnel at the nation’s ports should be reinstated immediately in order to better protect officers from coronavirus, according to an urgent letter from local union leaders to Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security.
CBP revoked the slightly reduced work schedules for employees at the ports along both U.S. borders, despite a massive decrease in cross-border traffic and public health warnings to avoid close contact with others.
The National Treasury Employees Union, which represents about 25,000 frontline CBP employees nationally, said the revised schedules were crucial for protecting the health and safety of those in CBP whose vital security mission at the ports cannot be done by teleworking.
Presidents from 55 NTEU chapters representing tens of thousands of employees signed a letter that was delivered yesterday to the Acting Secretary of DHS Chad Wolf and Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan.
"Granting employees paid administrative leave was a strong sign that CBP management valued the frontline workforce and placed their health and safety as a top priority. Rescinding the schedules has, unfortunately, squandered that goodwill,” the local NTEU leaders wrote.
Local port officials and NTEU chapters in late March jointly worked out the adjusted schedules to shorten the shifts of employees without disrupting port operations. The changes were tailored for each port, but many of them resulted in a 32-hour work week with 8 hours of weather and safety leave. While on leave, employees were subject to recall if needed at the port.
“The cooperation that led to the adjusted schedules was a model of how our federal government can operate with efficiency and effectiveness when labor and management work together,” the letter states.
CBP notified employees on April 6 that the local arrangements were canceled at ports along the northern and southern borders, allegedly because Border Patrol – which is separate from CBP Office of Field Operations – needed support. NTEU National President Tony Reardon has asked the agency to provide data about the extra need, but there has been no response.
As of yesterday, the agency reported 218 employees in all CBP divisions were confirmed to have contracted COVID-19.
NTEU represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.