Coronavirus (COVID-19): Updates from Leadership

Read below for important news and updates from our leadership as the COVID-19 continues to unfold.

March 23, 2020

March 19, 2020 (UW)
March 18, 2020
March 10, 2020

March 10, 2020 (Seattle Community Colleges)

March 8, 2020
March 6, 2020 (UW)

March 5, 2020

March 3, 2020

March 2, 2020

March 23, 2020
Update from President Yestramski: 
Tonight, Governor Inslee announced his Stay Home, Stay Healthy proclamation, similar to orders that other governors have issued. Our hope is that this order will buy time to slow the spread of COVID-19, so our health systems and front-line workers are able continue providing quality services to Washingtonians in need.

This order—along with expanded telework and leave options for public employees—was among the many recommendations we have provided to the Governor's Office over the past month. As we learn more over the next several hours, we will provide additional updates and guidance on this order.

This proclamation will:

Require every Washingtonian to stay home unless they need to pursue an essential activity.
Ban all gatherings for social, spiritual and recreational purposes.
Close all businesses except essential businesses.
Grocery stores, doctor’s offices and other essential businesses will remain open, and people can continue going outside as long as they maintain a distance of at least six feet.

By now, telework options should have been extended to all employees who are not deemed essential or emergency staff. If you have not been provided the option to telework, and you believe your job duties may be performed from home, please email your supervisor. Contact your union steward if you do not receive a reasonable response. If you cannot locate your union steward, please email the Member Connection Center at [email protected]

We continue to call on the Governor's Office and State HR to do more to protect public employees and the communities we serve during this pandemic. In addition to proposals outlined in previous emails, we're asking for the following:

  • "Courageous Duty Pay" for essential workers with public-facing job duties
  • Paid admin leave for all high-risk employees with underlying health issues until alternative assignment available for at-home work
  • Paid admin leave for employees waiting on telework setup
  • Mandatory temperature checks upon entry to worksite

Again, if your employer is not following public health guidance on COVID-19, please contact your WFSE steward or email our Member Connection Center at [email protected].

March 19, 2020
The University of Washington has finally provided translated COVID-19 material after union members called on administrators to recognize language barriers. Several employees at UW and Harborview Medical Center speak English as a second language. Knowledge is power when it comes to COVID-19, and management should ensure all employees have up-to-date health and safety guidance. We spoke up together, and they heard us:

March 18, 2020
Update from President Yestramski: 
These are unprecedented times that require bold action.
 The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted our daily lives, and most Washingtonians are concerned not only about their safety, but their economic security as well.

As public employees, we are uniquely positioned to lead during this crisis. Across all departments/agencies, we are doing what we can to keep ourselves and the public safe while continuing to do our jobs. 

So far, the Governor's office and state HR have implemented many of our union's recommendations, including our calls for telework and expanded leave. But they have more work to do, as do administrators in higher ed. 

We hear your concerns and will continue to push elected officials and management to do what's right. This Sunday, our union's executive director, Leanne Kunze, delivered a list of additional recommendations to the Governor's Office and state HR based on what we're hearing from you:

  • Statewide moratorium on evictions
  • Prohibition of utility shut-offs
  • Prohibition of rent increases
  • Purchasing limits on basic needs items (food, sanitary items, etc.)
  • Consideration of emergency basic income
  • Expansion of basic internet access as a public benefit for online education and increased opportunity for telework
  • Expanded paid leave for those who have exhausted accrued leave and are unable to telework because they lack childcare, are a high public health risk, or are experiencing fever or respiratory symptoms
  • Increased push for statewide voluntary social isolation (e.g., limit travel to known infected areas to help flatten the curve)
  • Proper PPE for UW and Harborview employees and an end to improper rationing
  • Training for UW staff on latest guidance to be provided in additional languages (e.g., 15-minute shift meetings with interpreters would be helpful for staff, and coordination with WFSE-represented HCA interpreters is recommended)
  • Updated guidance on leave and benefits posted for workers in writing and in additional languages
  • Mandatory adherence to guidance for airborne contagions (vs. mist) in institutions and higher ed, especially when cleaning rooms of infected patients
  • A mandate for WA institutions to follow guidance for PPE and hazard protocol for cleaning patient rooms
  • A waiver to allow HCA and DSHS interpreters to conduct interpreting services using social distancing guidelines at the same pay rate as if in person
  • Expanded unemployment insurance for independent providers
  • Suspension of non-emergent community visits

We will keep you posted with developments. 

Again, I urge everyone to follow public health guidance and to think particularly about the most vulnerable people in our communities. They need us to continue to lead during this crisis. If you see something that isn't right, speak up.

If you have evidence that your employer is not following public health guidance, please contact your shop steward immediately. If you cannot reach your steward, please contact our Member Connection Center at 833-MCC-WFSE or [email protected].

By working together, we will get through this.

March 10, 2020
Assistant Director Franklin Plaistowe released a Policy Guideline and letter addressing work restrictions and pay provisions for state employees who have been or may be exposed to COVID-19. These guidelines are effective immediately. 

Download COVID-19 Workplace Guidelines
Download COVID-19 Memo.

March 10, 2020 (Seattle Community Colleges)
South Seattle College’s main campus has transitioned to remote operations starting Tuesday, March 10 due to a confirmed case of COVID-19. No employees were identified as exposed or potentially exposed. The campus will keep this status through Winter Quarter (March 25). During this time, the main campus in West Seattle will be closed. Students will continue with online instruction.

Through our union’s advocacy, employees and supervisors will be working together to identify alternative methods of working, and this includes trainings that can be done online. Most of our members at South Seattle main campus will be working remotely and some will be provided opportunities to work on campus and receive assignment pay. Those remaining on campus have received appropriate protective personal equipment and training based on public health guidelines.

March 8, 2020
Our union is taking the lead on the COVID-19 response.

WFSE members are on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus), and that's why our union has taken proactive steps to protect workers and their families.

When COVID-19 hit Washington, our union immediately began talks with the Governor's Office and the Office of Financial Management (OFM). Recognizing that our collective bargaining agreements do not account for pandemics, Leanne Kunze—our new executive director—proposed a new policy that would extend protections for workers. She argued those who may be required to self-quarantine is a matter of public health that should not fall on the shoulders of workers – especially those who may not have sufficient accrued leave balances. She also argued those who contract the virus as a result of on-the-job exposure should have expanded access to workers compensation.

The result so far:

Governor Inslee has expanded workers' compensation, recognizing the financial burden and greater risk facing working people in our state.

Governor Inslee is expected to release an additional executive policy this week that supports our union's position and sets an example that other employers should follow to protect workers and stop further spread of COVID-19. The new policy will include the following:

  • Guidance on telework for high risk categories, such as individuals over the age of 60, people with suppressed immune systems, and those who are pregnant.
  • Authorization of paid administrative leave (instead of accrued leave when telework is not an option) for healthy staff who are required to self-quarantine for up to 14 days.

A special thanks to our new executive director, Leanne Kunze, for positioning our union as the leader on this issue as she continues talks with the Governor's Office and OFM. I also want to thank all of our staff and members who are speaking up for facts and continuing to serve their communities during this public health matter.

Please stay tuned to the Department of Health's website for COVID-19 information and recommendations. If you have any questions or have evidence that your department is not taking adequate measures, please contact our WFSE Member Connection Center at 833-MCC-WFSE or email [email protected].

March 6, 2020
Update for University of Washington Employees
From Local 1488 President Paula Lukaszek and Local 3488 President John Frazier:

You should have received a notice from UW that starting Monday, March 9, classes will no longer be meeting in person until the quarter concludes on March 20. This is NOT suspended operations. UW is still fully operating and your work schedule is not affected at this time.

Because of our union’s advocacy, if an employee comes in contact with COVID-19 during the course of their work, the employee will receive paid administrative leave during a physician-directed period of self-isolation.

The University has also met our demands for employee testing. While the staff testing clinic is currently located at UW Medical Center – Northwest, this is a shared resource across all UW Medicine entities. There is no cost for this screening. Employees calling out sick because of fever (Temperature ≥ 101F), new uncontrolled cough or new shortness of breath are eligible.

If you have any symptoms, contact employee health immediately:

  1. UW Medicine personnel should contact Employee Health Services (UWMC – Montlake at 206-598-4848, UWMC – Northwest at 206-668-1625, or Harborview Medical Center at 206-744-3081).
  2. All other UW Bothell, Seattle and Tacoma staff should contact UW Environmental Health & Safety’s Employee Health Center at [email protected] or 206-685-1026.

We continue to demand immediate proper personal protective equipment and training for all our members who may come in contact with COVID-19. Stay tuned for more updates.

March 5, 2020
Update from the Washington State Department of Health's COVID-19 Community Task Force:
Community Engagement Task Force—COVID-19
COVID-19 Call Center: 1-800-525-0127

The state Department of Health wants to keep you as informed as possible about continuing developments surrounding COVID-19 as well as guidance and resources.
Numbers. The Department of Health website is updated daily with the number of people in Washington confirmed to be positive and the number of people who have died of this disease. As of this writing, 39 people in Washington have tested positive for COVID-19, and 10 have died of the disease. We are very likely to see more people with COVID-19 identified in the coming days.
Should I get tested? Maybe not. We know many people are wondering, if they have fever and a cough, do they need to get tested for COVID-19? The University of Washington announced they have a new lab test available that will expand our capacity. We are incredibly proud and thankful for their partnership BUT…Right now, we still have limited capacity to run these tests, and we are prioritizing the tests for people with underlying health conditions or serious illness. Testing may become more readily available in the future, but, for now, if you have mild symptoms (cough, fever), you need to stay home, stay away from people, and maybe catch up on your Netflix shows. A test, whether it’s positive or negative, won’t change that advice!
Maple Lane Quarantine and Isolation Facility: Did you know that our quarantine facility consists of 8 RVs?  We have designated 4 of them for people who are healthy, but at very high risk of exposure, and 4 for people who have symptoms of COVID-19. We visited the Maple Lane to talk with the employees about these RVs. We still have no people staying with us in this facility, but some of the employees were looking ahead and concerned that having people quarantined or isolated here might pose some risk to them or to the surrounding community. Coronaviruses like COVID-19 spread through close contact, like when you touch someone, shake someone’s hand, or touch a hard surface that has the virus on it and then you touch your face. Having people living in a nearby RV, even if they have the disease, does not pose a risk to people in the community. (PS—want to reduce your risk? Wash your hands! A lot!)  
Remember to make good information go viral! Don’t believe everything you read on the internet! Please fact check before you forward using reliable sources of information, like our coronavirus page and the CDC’s coronavirus website. 
Practice compassion. Remember, many of our loved ones are older or have chronic illnesses like diabetes or asthma that make COVID-19 infection especially dangerous for them. Be compassionate towards people who are worried or sick. Help people feel more comfortable by respectfully refraining from handshakes and hugs.

March 3, 2020
We will be providing updates on COVID-19 (the coronavirus) as this public health matter unfolds. Public health officials do anticipate the continued spread of the virus, so it’s imperative that we all stay informed and continue to practice good hygiene.

Our union is taking proactive steps to ensure protections are in place for workers. Our executive director is in discussions with OFM and the governor’s staff in hopes of developing a universal policy that ensures employees do not lose pay in the case of exposure and subsequent quarantine. We will keep you updated as new information comes in.

It is our collective responsibility to take preventive measures seriously.

  • Wash your hands often and avoid touching your face. The Centers for Disease Control is an excellent source for information on how to avoid contacting and spreading viruses. Please review their recommendations here:
  • Do not go to work if you are showing symptoms. If you have reason to believe you have been exposed, you should notify your doctor immediately and follow their recommendations.
  • If your medical provider places you under quarantine, be sure to provide notice to your employer. Work with your employer to determine if telework is an option.
  • If you have an autoimmune disease or weakened immune system, you should seek the advice of your medical provider.

If you have questions about the WA Department of Health (WA DOH) guidelines, contact their hotline at 1-800-525-0127 and press #.

If you have reason to believe your employer is not responding appropriately and reasonably to this public health matter, contact the WFSE Member Connection Center at 833-MCC-WFSE or email them at [email protected]

We will provide additional information to you as we receive it. Stay tuned for a frequently asked question (FAQ) document from the state of Washington. We will also continue to provide updates on our website here.

March 2, 2020
COVID-19 (the Coronavirus) is now spreading in the United States, and six people have already died from the virus here in Washington. This is a serious public health matter, and we are keeping a close eye on recommendations from the Washington Department of Health (WA DOH) as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

I'd like to provide you with some important resources to help keep you and your family safe, along with an update on what our union is doing to ensure protections for workers.

Stay Informed & Vigilant
We applaud Governor Jay Inslee for issuing a state of emergency Saturday directing state agencies to use all resources available to prepare and respond to the coronavirus. Please stay tuned to the WA Department of Health’s website for updates and recommendations, and review the Workplace and Employer Resources & Recommendations here. If you have a specific incident to report that demonstrates an agency’s failure to meet these guidelines, please contact your steward or contact the Member Connection Center at 833-MCC-WFSE or [email protected].

The WA DOH has provided these tips to prevent illness at the office:

  • Please stay home if you have symptoms of respiratory illness.
  • Make sure you have plenty of soap, alcohol-based hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol), and tissues in your work area.
  • ​Be sure to clean your hands several times per day with either an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, or with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Cleaning with soap and water is the preferred method if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • ​Please cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then place the used tissue directly into a no-touch waste bin.  If tissues aren’t available, coughing or sneezing into the upper sleeve is OK, but NOT into the hands.
  • ​After coughing or sneezing, wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer can be used if soap and water are not available.
  • ​Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in your immediate work area (phones, doorknobs, keyboards, desks) using the wet wipes provided.

Our union is in regular communication with state officials and monitoring this situation closely. We are also calling for leadership at the federal level. Our international union—​AFSCME—​has weighed in with the House and Senate leadership staff and appropriations committee staff. We have asked Congress to quickly pass emergency measures that would include new funding for the following:

  • Purchase needed protective personal equipment (N95 respiratory masks, goggles, gloves, etc.) for health care workers and other workers;
  • Reimburse localities and states for COVID-19 preparation and response activities;
  • Strengthen the public health infrastructure by increasing staffing levels;
  • Direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to issue a temporary emergency infectious disease standard.

We have also raised the need to develop legislation to address a possible recession that may accompany a COVID-19 public health emergency.

Please review the two documents outlining issues that we may face at work and issues that employers should address.