Corrections, EMS Workers Stress Need for Resources in COVID-19 Fight

Before the announcement early Wednesday of an unprecedented $2 trillion deal to combat the coronavirus pandemic, AFSCME President Lee Saunders and three front-line workers put pressure on federal lawmakers to come through with a robust aid package for state and local governments so they can rebuild decimated public services.

In a press call on Tuesday, Saunders and the members described some of the challenges facing front-line workers, emphasized public service workers’ commitment to their communities, and called on Congress to “Fund the Front Lines.”

Saunders underscored the urgent need for aid to state and local governments to see them through this crisis and secure their futures. Failure to do so, he said, not only jeopardizes vital services to our communities; it will also be a drag on our economy when America gets back to work. 

“Public service workers continue to show their mettle – working around the clock to contain the coronavirus pandemic, exposing themselves to risk in the process, with no higher priority than the health and safety of their neighbors,” Saunders said.

“It is time to fund the front lines. State and local government budgets are stretched to the breaking point. They are overwhelmed and under-resourced. We’re all paying the price for the reckless and shortsighted austerity measures of the last decade,” Saunders said.

For Jared Rosenberg, a paramedic supervisor for the police department in Greenburgh, a town outside New York City, and president of the EMS unit in Greenburgh for AFSCME Local 1000 (CSEA), funding the front lines means obtaining more personal protective equipment, more N95 masks and expanded COVID-19 testing to include first responders.

“We’ve resorted to collecting masks from the public. So far, over 100 N-95 masks and 300 surgical masks have been donated by residents,” said Rosenberg. “We’re grateful for what we have collected, but this is no way to prepare for an uptick in cases. We need these masks, and we need them now. And we need the federal government to pay for these masks, because we can’t afford them at this rate.”

Rosenberg said that of the 40 EMS professionals in his group who have trained to respond to COVID-related calls, five or six have been sidelined in self-quarantine because they haven’t been able to get tested and cleared to return to work.

Tanisha Woods, a correctional officer at Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Dr. Lane Murray Unit in Gatesville and president of Local 3920, said it’s her duty to maintain the safety and the security of her facility. But she can’t do that without adequate resources.

“To protect everyone in the prison, both staff and offenders need to be properly resourced to stay safe and healthy,” said Woods. “It’s not only on the state to make sure we have enough gloves, masks, soap and cleaning supplies. We need the federal government to step up and provide direct funding to state and local governments who are leading the fight against this virus.”

Meanwhile in Somers, Connecticut, Aimmee Reyes-Greaves, an industries supervisor at the Osborn Correctional Institution, discussed the dire implications if correctional facilities begin to see infections from the virus.

“My facility houses roughly 2,000 offenders,” said, Reyes-Greaves, a member of Local 391 (Council 4). “If we ever get a case of coronavirus within our walls, it will spread quickly. And we would have a public health catastrophe on our hands.”

Reyes-Greaves called for policy makers at all levels of government to prioritize the health and safety of corrections staff, who move every day between their communities and correctional facilities.

“Our penal system should have received more comprehensive guidance and support at the federal level, far earlier in this crisis,” noted Reyes-Greaves. “Like much of the federal level response, it is falling short.”