Federal employee unions react as COVID-19 protocols shift

Rising cases of coronavirus around the country have the federal government tweaking COVID-19 protocols, and unions are drawing lines in the sand.

The Biden administration recently changed COVID-19 guidelines regarding face coverings, recommending masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, in areas of substantial transmission For now, that includes D.C. itself and parts of Northern Virginia but not the Maryland suburbs.

Separately, the administration announced plans to require federal employees and contractors to either get vaccinated or to start getting tested for COVID-19 on a weekly basis, if not more often, and to continue wearing masks regardless of the transmission level in their community.

Unvaccinated visitors to federal offices must wear masks and have proof of a negative coronavirus test within the last three days.

However, all of it is on the honor system. Federal employees and contractors will be asked to attest to their vaccination status, and no one is going to demand proof, at least at the moment.

But the changing rules already have federal employee unions staking out turf for the future.

Statements issued by the American Federation of Government Employees said the union expects “the particulars of any changes to working conditions, including those related to COVID-19 vaccines and associated protocols, be properly negotiated” before taking effect.

Similarly, the National Treasury Employees Union said it has “a lot of questions about how this policy will be implemented and how employee rights and privacy will be protected.”

Other groups, including the Postal Workers union and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, jumped right into concerns about any future vaccination mandates.

In fact, statements from nearly every federal employee union have tried to draw that red line in the sand while also encouraging members to voluntarily get vaccinated.

“It is not the role of the federal government to mandate vaccinations for the employees we represent,” said an unsigned statement from the American Postal Workers Union.

The closest any union came to suggesting acceptance of a mandate was the Professional Managers Association, which still asked the Biden administration to consult with OSHA, OPM, agency leaders and federal unions before announcing anything.

Right now only health care workers in the Department of Veterans Affairs are required to get the vaccine in order to maintain employment.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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