AFSCME Members Testify to the Challenges of Working During COVID, Understaffing

AFSCME Members Testify to the Challenges of Working During COVID, Understaffing 

On December 16 the Maryland House Appropriations Oversight Committee on Personnel held a special briefing on the challenges for state employees of delivering services and supports to Marylanders while being understaffed AND working during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Chair Patrick Young of Baltimore County oversaw the briefing, which also included Delegates Geraldine Valentino-Smith (Prince Georges), Jared Solomon (Montgomery), Michael Jackson (Prince Georges), Shaneka Henson (Anne Arundel) and Wendell Beitzel (Garrett).  Department of Budget & Management Secretary David Brinkley and DBM Human Resources Executive Director Cindy Kollner also testified and took questions.

AFSCME Council 3 union members testifying included Judith Ekhelar (Division of Corrections), BreAnna Suitor (MDH-SETT), Kim Henson (MVA) and Celina Sarguisingh (University of Maryland-College Park).

All four AFSCME members, despite working for dramatically different state employers, testified to similar, ongoing issues which the union has been fighting: the constant demand for more PPE; the need for more regular testing of personnel and clients; the lack of consistent policies around contact tracing, telework and other health and safety issues; issues around using up sick leave because of potential COVID exposure; the lack of hazard duty pay; and the ongoing issue of understaffing of state agencies (and higher education institutions) which has been greatly exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Responses by Secretary Brinkley and Kollner of note included:

  • In response to a question from Delegate Valentino-Smith regarding statewide coordination of policies around COVID, Kollner stated that each agency’s Human Resources Director should be answering to conflicts that arise between frontline staff and supervisors regarding COVID policies, not supervisors making decisions themselves;
  • DBM is looking into the issue of employees having to take unpaid leave when they get caught in a potential COVID exposure – Kollner indicated they may not have it be the employee’s responsibility to go into deficit to use personal leave time in those circumstances;
  • Comp time (at least in MDH) earned by employees may be used within a 24 month period, not the usual 12 months (Council 3 is working to confirm);
  • On telework, Kollner was very clear that a supervisor couldn’t make an employee come into the office instead of teleworking simply because there were difficulties in making the adjustment in working conditions;
  • Secretary Brinkley stated “employees have the right to a safe environment” – and AFSCME will be sure to follow up on that right!
  • Finally, Secretary Brinkley also said “Our challenges are still just making sure that we have the bodies to do some of the work that needs to be done….”  AFSCME’s overwhelming reply to this?  “Then hire more state employees to get the job done!”

You can watch the hearing on youtube here: