Letter to the Editor: Essential employees at risk despite guidance

Dear Editor,

I read your March 23 article on the Office of Management and Budget’s new coronavirus contractor guidance. As the President of American Federation of Government Employees Local 2463 which represents the all of the Smithsonian facilities and National Zoo as well as the Kennedy Center, I was distraught because the Smithsonian has failed to follow the OMB’s new coronavirus contractor guidance.

The Smithsonian currently has outside contractors working on projects at several locations and the Kennedy Center also has contractors working on projects. While both of these two organizations received money from the recent two trillion-dollar coronavirus bills they are in fact exposing their employees to the virus. To support these contractors, they need additional federal employees to monitor, escort, support, and advise the contractors on projects that are not mission critical, thereby creating an environment that is more likely to create spread of the virus.

As you and many of your readers know, federal agencies have been pushing the metro systems for their employees while upper management are able to park free at work.  Washington D.C. and New York and others now know that rapid transit systems are breeding grounds for the coronavirus. Cleaning the units at the end of the day does nothing to stop the virus from infecting a rider if the previous rider that day was infected.

This union’s membership has felt like these organizations have a two-tier system. One for the so-called elites which include scientists, curators and management which receive the majority of the money, recognition, awards and telework, while “Joe the Plumber” receives poor pay, no parking, no recognition, awards and are forced to work during this crisis. We are told that we are all in this together at the same time that the elites are sitting on their couch eating chips and watching soap operas and our members are being told they will be charged as AWOL if they don’t come in to work on their day off.

Believe it or not, our membership has families and elderly parents that we worry about too. They struggle with poor pay, bad management and now they are told they are essential employees. Funny, they are not considered essential employees during contract negotiations, awards ceremonies or paid trips to exotic places. I guess essential employee really means disposable.

I know the Smithsonian Marketing group are experts in presenting this super pristine image and brag about their museums and their artifacts or animals at the zoo but does the public realize who is really responsible for this? At the zoo it is the bargaining unit employees who take care of the animals every day, feeding them, cleaning their cages and yes, picking up their waste. It is the bargaining unit employees who maintain the chillers and other equipment to maintain critical temperatures for these animals and it is the bargaining unit employees who are police officers at the zoo to ensure everyone’s safety. Is the public aware that the Smithsonian has deliberately failed to hire replacement police officers and facilities personnel while they waste money by having parties or taking these trips all over the world. The police officers have been understaffed by 50% for over 10 years.

At the Smithsonian it is the bargaining unit collection employees who maintain and track the collections. It is the bargaining unit employees that work in the restoration shop that clean, anodize, electroplate, weld, repair wood damage, machine replacement parts, and paint the artifacts. Take a trip out to the Air and Space Museum in Chantilly on the airport property to actually look into the massive restoration shop and see bargaining units restoring historical aircraft.

The Kennedy Center does not open without all the bargaining unit employees maintaining all the equipment to make the magic happen on stage.

Essential employees? Yes, to do the work. But important employees? I guess not.

David Hendrick
President, AFGE Local 2463

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