A group of six Democratic senators led by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, introduced legislation on July 29 to establish labor task forces that would provide Federal workers with an outlet to express needs for personal protective equipment (PPE) and establish health precautions for returning to the workplace.

The Federal Labor-Management COVID Partnership Act would establish formal labor-management task forces within the executive branch and at agency levels. The task forces would review telework, cleaning, training, and other Federal policies to provide recommendations on keeping Feds safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation aims to give Federal workers a clear avenue for providing input on both COVID-19 and future crisis workplace procedures.

“This bill is about protecting our federal workers during the COVID pandemic,” Sen. Schatz said. “By promoting a constructive dialogue between Federal agencies and public servants, these task forces will help make sure the Federal government creates good policy for its workers.”

The legislation outlines several topics of concern for the task force to study, including the role of labor organization participation; PPE distribution and workforce needs; cleaning and disinfecting; telework; leave and safety protocol guidance and other information; and after-action determinations.

Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., are cosponsoring the legislation. The legislation earned approval from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest Federal employee union.

“Some agencies under this current administration have refused to negotiate with the union over the coronavirus or other workplace matters, making the need for this legislation all the more critical,” AFGE National President Everett Kelly said.

Per Sen. Schatz’s office, 39,000 Federal workers have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 100 have died. The Department of Labor is reportedly anticipating over 6,000 Federal workers to file claims in the upcoming weeks alleging that they contracted COVID-19 at work.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.