CHS Employees Win Back Telework!

After weeks of meeting with department leaders, Correctional Health Services (CHS) employees have won the battle to get back partial telework.

In the midst of a COVID-19 surge, the County of Los Angeles revoked its telework program that it implemented in March 2020. In a statement released on March 17, 2020, Los Angeles County leadership stated, “The safety and security of our employees is our primary focus. We are working on expanding telework opportunities wherever feasible.” Yet, a few months later, AFSCME Local 2712 members were told that teleworking would no longer resume past November.

The telework program allowed employees to do their work while being safe, yet without any real reason, management began to roll back their telework program. Without this vital telework program, employees were back to working in unsafe working environments.

Many Local 2712 members conduct mental health evaluations of their patients in high-risk places such as correctional facilities where COVID-19 cases have remained high throughout this pandemic. Correctional facilities have been a breeding ground for COVID-19 due to the lack of enforcement of masks and social distancing. “It’s just a frustrating and dangerous situation,” says Jason Viray, a Psychiatric Social Worker I at Twin Towers Correctional Facility. “I feel like I’m rolling the dice each time I report for work.”

Erin Wurtemberg

Member of AFSCME Local 2712

Employees were told that they could not use COVID-19 as an excuse for not seeing their patient outside of their cell and must conduct their evaluations face to face. They typically conduct evaluations at a small table with no plexiglass that does not allow for social distancing and their patient is not provided with proper personal protective equipment (PPE). “Although admin says we cannot use COVID-19 as a reason to not see someone out of their cell, none of my clients in High Observation Housing (HOH) have been provided with proper PPE. They have been given dust masks which public health officials have indicated are not appropriate PPE for reducing viral transmission,” says Erin Wurtemberg, who also works at Twin Towers Correctional Facility as a Psychiatric Social Worker II.

A telework program is necessary to keep employees that typically work in high-risk places, as well as their families, safe. “Telework is essential to provide the physical distancing that will reduce risk for our workforce, their patients, and their families,” says Teddy McKenna, President of AFSCME Local 2712. Union leaders from AFSCME Local 2712 and their members began meeting with management to bring back their vital telework policy. In many of these meetings, management seemed out of touch with what was happening in the correctional facilities and didn’t seem interested in advocating for their employees. But the Union never backs down, and after multiple meetings with department leadership, CHS agreed to bring back partial telework. It is a major win for Local 2712 members who work in Correctional Health Services!