Good evening Chapter 141,
We have gotten confirmation that NTEU National was already and will continue to challenge the COVID testing of unvaccinated employees. CBP has used the state of emergency to bypass bargaining over implementation of the testing. Because of this, like most of what has happened over the last two years, we are left with having to comply with the orders and challenge them later. NTEU's official stance is that you should comply with testing, however, much like the vaccine issue, you are all free to make your own decisions. We will be there to assist with any discipline that should follow. We have attached a letter from the National President on the current and ongoing fight of this nonsense.
Unfortunately Maine is one of the few areas in the country that has started the testing of uniformed employees. We will continue to inform you as updates arise.
We have made NTEU National aware of the incident in Calais where management left all of the test kits, with employees names on them, in a common area for all to see. If you have any other issues or violations similar to that, please let us know as soon as possible.
TO: CBP Chapter Presidents RE: Opposition to Screening Testing Program SUMMARY: NTEU outlined its opposition to the screening testing program during a meeting held with the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force. We also pressed the Task Force to extend weather and safety leave to more employees. As agencies begin to set in motion their plans to screen test unvaccinated federal employees, NTEU took the opportunity to push back at the guidance from the Safer Federal Workforce Task Force (Task Force). In a recent meeting, NTEU made clear to the Task Force that we do not support the current plan to only test unvaccinated employees and laid out our opposition to its screening testing guidance. We told the Task Force that its plan simply does not accomplish the goal to halt the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and does not make sense given the current realities on the ground. Here are the reasons why: Back in January 2021, the president issued Executive Order 13991 which required the Secretary of HHS to “promptly develop . . . a testing plan for the Federal workforce” and to coordinate “with local public health authorities for contact tracing” as part of the government’s COVID-19 response. The federal government did neither. Then, in early October 2021 when the Delta variant caused cases to sharply increase, the Task Force issued a FAQ stating that testing guidance would be forthcoming. However, months passed without any such guidance being issued. Then, in January 2022, after the Omicron variant had already arrived and COVID-19 cases were soaring, the Task Force finally released its testing guidance. It gave agencies until February 15 to have a screening testing program developed, but left room for when agencies would actually begin to test. As we have now seen, agencies are still trying to get their screening testing programs up and running. In the meantime, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have plummeted since their Omicron peak; the CDC has changed its guidance on screening testing protocols based on high, medium and low “COVID-19 Community Levels;” and the Task Force has yet again updated its FAQs to account for the changes in CDC guidance. As of March 24, only 8.89% of counties across the country are either high or medium COVID-19 Community Level counties (where Task Force guidance requires screening testing to be performed). With this as background, we told the Task Force that its screening testing guidance does not accomplish its goals. First, the guidance is over-inclusive: more than 90% of federal employees are fully vaccinated, which is a much higher percentage than the general population in the high and medium COVID-19 Community Level counties. But the guidance is also under-inclusive because it requires screening testing only of the unvaccinated. If a central goal of screening testing is to prevent transmission of the disease from one person to another, the guidance falls well short. Again, over 90% of federal employees are fully vaccinated, meaning the initial pool of potential employees to be screen tested is less than 10%. However, the Task Force guidance further limits testing of unvaccinated employees to those in high or medium COVID-19 Community Level counties who report in person to their workplace in any given week. So, if the goal is to stop the spread of COVID-19, agencies are being required to develop and fund a complex screening testing program for a small group of employees that shifts every week, but misses a much larger group of employees who may also spread COVID-19. As several of you have pointed out before, cases of the highly contagious Omicron variant increased among all employees, both vaccinated and unvaccinated. On average, those cases were milder in the vaccinated population, meaning a higher portion of them were asymptomatic carriers of the disease. Therefore, we do not see how this flawed screening testing guidance would accomplish the goal of decreasing the transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace. Instead, we pressed the Task Force on the need to concentrate resources in diagnostic testing, which is designed to test employees who are symptomatic or who have recent known or suspected exposure to COVID-19. And when employees do test positive, they should not be forced to use their own leave as is required by the current Task Force and OPM guidance. Instead, if they are unable to telework, they should be provided weather and safety leave (WSL), because keeping these employees out of the workplace means a safer work environment for all their colleagues. To that end, NTEU today filed a petition for rulemaking with OPM to revise its regulations to explicitly allow for WSL in this scenario. This follows my letter to Commissioner Magnus calling for CBP to similarly change its policy. I also want to thank you and our members for the many responses to our survey on WSL so far. This information will aid in our efforts to pressure CBP and the government to correct this faulty policy. We will continue to push the Task Force on the above screening testing points and aggressively wage our campaign to allow employees who test positive for COVID-19 to be given WSL. In the meantime, if you have any comments or concerns regarding this matter, please direct them to your chapter’s assigned NTEU Assistant Counsel/National Field Representative, Ryan Soon, Assistant Counsel for Negotiations, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Frank Barczykowski, Deputy Director for Negotiations, at email@example.com. Anthony M. Reardon National President
NTEU Chapter 141
Maine, New Hampshire, Halifax, Nova Scotia