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Child welfare workers seek safety amid virus outbreak

A Blair County child welfare worker was among members of a statewide union group calling Tuesday for employers to undertake more safety precautionary measures on behalf of their employees.

“I am asking (for equipment) to make performing my duties as personally safe as possible,” Children Youth & Families caseworker Lesa Ramper said in a teleconference with fellow members of the Service Employees International Union Local 668. “So I would like some goggles, an N95 mask … and some clothing coverage.”

The county union recently criticized commissioners for denying CYF staff the option of working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, they’re expected to report daily to the courthouse office, where internet security measures are intact, and handle work that includes contact with families via in-person, telephone or computer communications.

Ramper said she still wants to make face-to-face visits while doing her job. But during a recent emergency duty shift, she had no personal protective equipment. And she still hasn’t received any, she added.

Commissioner Laura Burke indicated last week that CYF workers were provided with N95 masks. But Burke clarified Tuesday night that the N95 masks she spoke of last week had been given to the department, before the coronavirus concerns developed.

Ramper said a box given to the department had nine masks, including one she gave to a county maintenance staffer who showed up, without protection, to clean the office.

Burke said the county has placed orders for N95 masks, and cloth masks are available, too.

“Everybody should have access to something,” Burke said.

SEIU Local 688 President Steve Catanese told reporters during the teleconference that Ramper’s concerns are commonplace among unionized workers who, as essential employees in a pandemic, need their employers to take more protective measures.

Catanese said the SEIU, representing nearly 20,000 health and human service workers, with about half employed by the state, gets daily reports from members about offices and work stations that aren’t being cleaned well enough to protect the employees.

Ramper said Blair County’s maintenance workers are sanitizing high-touch surfaces but that’s on top of their regular workload. They’ve also offered bottles of bleach, she said, so employees can clean their own workspaces.

SEIU member Zach Perkins of Philadelphia also called upon office managers and those in charge to be more forthcoming with information about coronavirus exposure. He said his direct supervisor tested positive for COVID-19 on April 2 and revealed that to his co-workers. Without him taking that action, others would have been exposed, said Perkins, who is now in self-quarantine.

Tammy Jo Rodgers, a social worker for the Department of Corrections, also called upon the state for better communications with its 24 state prisons and their personnel. She said she regularly sees a lack of uniformity in the dissemination of information.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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