Broward County Not Talking To Employees About Co-workers With COVID-19
By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Broward County government workers test positive for the COVID-19 virus, but county bosses are covering it up – failing to notify colleagues of their possible exposure and failing to follow federal recommendations to promote safety on work place.
Broward County Transit, which provides fixed-route buses, express buses, community shuttles and adapted transportation, has four employees who have tested positive, said William Howard, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1267 (HAVE YOU). This includes an assistant superintendent in transit. division, who tested positive in mid-March. This official “manages 95% of disciplinary hearings in Copans [Road] garage and comes into contact with a large number of employees, ”Howard said.
Three other transit workers are awaiting COVID-19 test results.
None of those positive tests have been disclosed to transit workers or union officials, according to Howard, whose local represents around 900 bus drivers, mechanics, shopkeepers and cleaners. Howard said he heard about most of those positive cases for the virus because employees came out.
The union cannot get answers from the county human resources division. “I sent an email asking what the county is doing about the notification and of course I haven’t received a response,” Howard said. “They don’t take the union’s suggestions very well.
Monday, the director of human resources at Broward David Kahn said by email that 13 county employees had tested positive for COVID-19. Three work at the airport, four in personal services, two in public works and four in transit.
“When the county learns that a person is feeling sick with symptoms similar to COVID-19, that person is immediately sent home and tasked with contacting the Florida Department of Health,” Kahn said. “When the county learns that a person has tested positive for COVID-19, the supervisor contacts employees who have been in contact with that person to inform them that an employee who was physically present in the office has tested positive. “
“That’s bullshit,” Howard said. “They certainly didn’t pass this on to their superintendents.”
Heard through the vineyard
For Howard, the apparent lack of county policies or procedures to notify workers when they may have been exposed to COVID-19 is also personal. He works closely with the assistant supervisor who fell ill on March 18, returned to work on March 24 and was sent home before finding out he had tested positive around March 27.
“He was coughing. I sat right across from him. He has a closet-sized desk, ”Howard said. “I was not very happy when I heard through the vineyard that he had it.” Howard, 66, is currently self-isolating at home. He has asthma and is at a higher risk of developing serious complications if he catches the virus.
A Broward bus operator who asked not to be named is also awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test after being similarly exposed. “It started as a rumor that a member of management had tested positive,” said the driver. “I know you can’t release the names, but I think the county should have put something in place that someone in the building tested positive, so you should watch yourself for symptoms.”
The law does not require such notification, but Howard said the county has a “moral obligation” to tell employees if they have been exposed to COVID-19. Federal orientation recently released by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration states, “Employers should educate and encourage employees to monitor themselves for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 if they suspect possible exposure. But even that lukewarm imperative doesn’t apply to Broward County. State and local government employees are not covered by OSHA.
“My biggest problem right now is the employees who come in sick and because they don’t have any more sick or vacation time they are pushing the boundaries and afraid to tell the employer that they have symptoms, ”Howard said.
Transit employees and others familiar with what is going on have provided similar accounts. All were appalled by the county administration’s decision not to warn them of a possible exposure.
“We are cattle”
“They just have no empathy for the traveling public or the drivers,” said a longtime public transport employee.
“To them we are cattle,” said a bus driver. “We are at the bottom of the transit rung. They Do not Care About Us. They never did. They just want the buses to get out and move so they can collect their federal funding. To hell with the consequences.
April Williams is President of Local 1591 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. It represents around 1,000 county white-collar workers in all departments. She also works as a counselor at the Broward Addiction Recovery Center (BARC). Williams said on Friday that union members are currently awaiting COVID-19 test results. Four people tested earlier came back negative.
None of this was disclosed by the county, she said. “I discovered it in a private setting. Go out to dinner and talk to someone.
“What they did if someone had to go home because he was sick… They told them not to say anything.”
The county’s insufficient protections for workers on the job are of greater concern for Williams.
“People are not afraid to work. We understand that we are essential. We want protective gear. We need dividers, bulkheads, masks and gloves, ”she said. ” We asked. They are out of stock.
Howard agreed. “Public transport is always necessary. There are a lot of people who don’t have a car and have to get out and get around. We have an Express Service that takes doctors and nurses to Jackson Memorial Hospital, ”he said. “But it’s like controlled suicide for some of our older guys. At least give us gloves and masks.
Howard said 130 Broward bus operators are 60 or older, “many in their 70s and two in their 80s. They are at high risk. “
Two or three weeks ago, Howard said, the county provided drivers with three-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer. But many of those bottles ran out and the county couldn’t find a way to provide refills. “They were going to do an exchange program. Where are the refills? They say, ‘We are working on it. We have to get that approved. But doing anything in this place is still an act of God.
Sanitary wipes are also lacking, Howard said. “Now they only wipe the car keys when operators also have to touch the steering wheel and handle of someone driving in front of them. “
The union failed to convince the county to install high quality air filters on its fleet. The union wants the county to switch to two-stage High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters that Howard says will catch “any kind of virus or bacteria.” Right now, they have the cheapest air filter on buses that only captures large particles. They cost $ 100 to $ 300 each and can last up to a year if properly maintained. Property management says it is investigating the matter. At that time, it will be in December.
Broward County Transit has made some recent changes to try to make buses safer for everyone. Hours have been reduced and to promote social distancing, the number of passengers in a standard 40-foot bus is now limited to 20 and 30 passengers in 60-foot buses. And cyclists, except those who need the wheelchair ramp, now get on and off only through the back door.
The buses are also cleaned and disinfected after the end of the day.
But another big change, the temporary suspension of fares for all county bus services effective March 24, had unintended consequences.
According to Howard and a bus driver interviewed for this story, large numbers of homeless people use the free rides to “ride all over town” and pig seats.
“They can’t go to the mall or the park, so they’re on the bus all day taking seats for people who have to go somewhere. They cough, hiss and sneeze. It’s mean, ”Howard said.
“They just make people happy because it’s free,” said the bus driver. “But if I have six and my bus is full, I can’t go get a nurse or someone in a lab coat coming home or going to work. I have to let them go because of these guys.