AFGE sues for hazard pay
- By Lia Russell
- Mar 30, 2020
The American Federation of Government Employees is leading a lawsuit on behalf of five federal employees seeking hazard pay bumps of 25% because of exposure to novel coronavirus while on the job.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit work at the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Agriculture and the Bureau of Prisons. The organizers of the lawsuit are looking to obtain class action status for their complaint and secure hazard pay for all similarly situated federal employees. In a press release announcing the lawsuit, the union stated that "there are likely thousands of other federal employees who have been exposed to the coronavirus while performing their official duties and are entitled to hazard pay pursuant to federal law."
The suit specified that the plaintiffs had been exposed to "hazardous working conditions through the performance of their assigned duties" but were denied hazard pay. The lawsuit points out that federal law specifies a 25% danger pay allowance under the General Schedule. Among conditions that trigger danger pay is work around "virulent biologicals," defined in statute as "materials of micro-organic nature which when introduced into the body are likely to cause serious disease or fatality and for which protective devices do not afford complete protection."
Aubrey Melder, a correctional officer at a BOP facility in Oakdale, La., transported a prisoner infected with COVID-19 to a hospital despite having access to limited personal protective equipment.
AFGE said that as of March 27, 19 inmates and 4 staff at the Oakdale prison had tested positive for the coronavirus and that 48 inmates suspected of having the virus were in self-isolation or quarantine, though the prison had not officially performed a lockdown until March 21, "[allowing] almost 1000 inmates ...[to go] to their work assignments and [go] to the dining hall for their meals, despite COVID19 running rampant in the institution."
Jason Phillips, a diagnostic radiology technologist at a VA facility in Portland, Ore., performed a procedure on an infected patient with no protective equipment other than gloves. According to the complaint, Phillips was not told the patient had COVID-19.
"Each day front-line federal employees willingly risk their health and their families' health to provide critical services to the American people. It is our hope that the government does right by these employees and pays them the hazardous duty pay they've earned," AFGE National President Everett Kelley said in a statement.
Lia Russell is a staff writer and associate editor at FCW covering the federal workforce. Before joining FCW, she worked as a freelance labor reporter in San Francisco for outlets such SF Weekly, The American Prospect and The Baffler. Russell graduated with a bachelor's degree from Bard College.
Contact Lia at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @LiaOffLeash.