BALTIMORE (WJZ) — As Maryland faces a rising number of COVID-19 cases, union leaders from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees traveled the state Tuesday advocating for essential state workers they say are continuously exposed to dangerous working conditions.
Union members said they show up to work every day and they want those in charge to recognize the sacrifices they’re making.
“I get up every day, I go to work, I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know who I’m going to be around and I don’t know when or where I can be exposed to the virus,” Local AFSCME Union 3167 President Denise Henderson Johnson said.
Henderson Johnson works at Baltimore’s Juvenile Justice Center in the transportation department. She and other essential state workers across various departments said there is a lack of personal protective equipment and not everyone who needs it has it.
For those who work in state office buildings, the union is demanding workers are able to do their jobs remotely and is also asking for hazard pay as an acknowledgment of the dangerous working conditions they face daily.
The Department of Juvenile Services told WJZ there is no PPE shortage, that it has implemented mandatory telework for all staff members who are able to do so and response pay is in effect for staff members working with quarantined youth.
As of Monday, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services reported 857 of its staff members and nearly 1,200 inmates tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began. Two staff members and 13 inmates have died.
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Cherrish Vick, the union’s secretary treasurer, said essential state workers “make Maryland happen.” Vick, who works for the Department of Human Services in Prince George’s County, is concerned about coworkers who continue to make home visits amid the pandemic.
“The state continues to run and it’s because of these employees who you’ve seen here today,” Vick said.
The Department of Human Services did not respond to WJZ’s request for comment.