Washington D.C. – Nine members of Congress from the Washington region are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture to suspend its plans to reopen federal buildings and require teleworking employees to return before office conditions are safe.
“The Federal Government has a responsibility as a model employer to show American businesses how to safely reopen in the face of the ongoing pandemic. The agency's plans thus far do not live up to that responsibility,” according to the House members’ letter sent Wednesday to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.
The letter was led by Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) and signed by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD); Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA); Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA); Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC); Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD); Rep. Anthony Brown (D-MD); Rep. John Sarbanes (D-MD); and Rep. David Trone (D-MD).
NTEU represents nearly 400 employees at the agency’s Food and Nutrition Service national office in Alexandria, Va., where local union leaders have raised multiple concerns that a premature end to the maximum telework policy will put employees at risk of contracting covid-19.
“NTEU and federal employees in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C. are grateful that Rep. Wexton and her House colleagues from the region are insisting that USDA consult with its own employees and agree to adhere to public health protocols before forcing employees back into the office,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said.
For example, USDA has said it will not directly notify employees if someone at work tests positive for covid-19 nor will it provide temperature checks upon entry into the building or on-demand testing for employees.
“In light of these many concerns, we would ask that the agency suspend its dangerous and insufficient plans to reopen its offices and take the time necessary to develop a safe and science-based reopening plan that addresses employee concerns,” the House members wrote.
Reardon said FNS employees have been teleworking since the start of the pandemic, keeping themselves and their families safe, preventing community spread and providing continuous, uninterrupted service to American taxpayers.
"We agree with these members of Congress who believe it is unnecessary to put successfully teleworking federal employees at risk by forcing them back into crowded offices without adequate safety protocols, and we hope that USDA management will rewrite its plans in a way that gives employees confidence that their health and safety is of paramount importance,” Reardon said.
NTEU represents about 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.