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Government Workers Risk Their Lives, Receive No Compensation

Thousands of federal, state workers risk their lives each day by showing up to work. Legally, they should be receiving hazard pay, but many haven’t gotten anything. For those that did, the payments stopped months ago.

Los Angeles bus drivers protesting
Los Angeles Metro bus drivers on July 10, demanding hazard pay for working during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Government employees across the nation are risking their lives and the lives of their families each day that they go to work jobs that cannot be done remotely, and they are paying the price.

A recent report from the Department of Labor revealed that, as of August 4, 2020, there could be as many as 6,000 federal employees who have contracted COVID-19 while on the job. As of June 16, there had been 48 federal employees that had died due to COVID-19, which they contracted on the job. And yet, these high-risk, essential workers are not receiving hazardous duty pay, even though it is required by federal law.

Some federal workers have sued several federal agencies, seeking the hazard pay that they have earned, but that will only amount to a small portion of workers who deserve extra compensation. There could be as many as 100,000 federal workers that should be getting hazard pay, which could increase salaries by as much as 25 percent.

"We're risking our lives not just to put food on the table for our families but also to protect society,” Kareen “Troy” Troitino, a correctional officer at FCI Miami and the president of his local union that represents correctional officers, told NPR. “And it seems like no one, no one cares."

And the issue is not just federal. Workers across the nation are filing workers’ compensation claims for contracting COVID-19, but some are finding that they do not qualify for the extra payment.

Michigan’s “premium pay” gave 14,000 state workers in high-risk jobs an extra $750 biweekly, but those payments ended on June 27, amounting to only 12 weeks of hazard pay. Kurt Weiss, a spokesperson for Michigan’s Office of State Employer, told the Lansing State Journal that the “premium pay” was designed to correspond to the peak of the pandemic, even though many states, like California, Hawaii and Tennessee, have since seen an increase in case numbers after they began reopening.

The state’s corrections system has been hit especially hard. Of the 14,000 employees who received premium pay, about 10,000 work in corrections. The Journal reported that there have been more than 4,000 coronavirus cases in Michigan’s prisons.

Andy Potter, Michigan Corrections Organization executive director, explained to the Journal that hazardous duty pay is more than just extra money: "We view premium pay as an acknowledgement of not just the hard work and the dangerous work, but the sacrifice of being away from their families, being self-quarantined away from their families.”

Zoe is the digital editor for Governing.
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