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Union Demands Virus Protection for Workers as IRS Recalls Staff

April 27, 2020, 9:39 PM

A federal employees union wants government agencies to take health and safety precautions before reopening their facilities—a demand that comes after the IRS recalled thousands of workers Monday but told them to bring their own protective gear.

The union said Monday in a news release that conditions that should be met before employees return to the workplace include: a lifting of state and local stay-at-home orders; widespread access to coronavirus testing; adequate supplies of sanitizers and disinfectants; socially distanced workspaces; the provision of cloth face coverings; and, continued telework or weather and safety leave for high-risk individuals.

The union, the National Treasury Employees Union, represents 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments, including the IRS.

“We were critical of those agencies that were too slow to expand telework or close their buildings as the coronavirus spread throughout the country,” NTEU President Tony Reardon said. “And now we are on guard for those who want to reopen them too quickly before the public health threat has subsided.”

NTEU is providing a flier to members listing the safeguards that should be in place before they return to work.

The IRS faced criticism over the weekend from Democratic lawmakers after asking about 10,000 workers to return to their offices before it had obtained enough masks and gloves for all of them. The IRS asked the workers to bring their own face coverings but said it was in the process of procuring protective gear—much of which should arrive in the coming days.

Asked to comment on the NTEU’s statement Monday, the agency pointed to a statement it issued Saturday that said “no employees have been requested to return to work in a manner inconsistent with federal Covid-19 guidelines.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Allyson Versprille in Washington at aversprille@bloombergtax.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Patrick Ambrosio at pambrosio@bloombergtax.com; Kathy Larsen at klarsen@bloombergtax.com

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