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Union critical of county rules

CYF workers not allowed to work from home

HOLLIDAYSBURG — A union representing some Blair County employees is criticizing commissioners for refusing to allow Children, Youth & Families staff members to work at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Commissioners, however, are standing by the position that CYF employees must continue to report daily to the courthouse while keeping contact with local families, via telephone and video during the pandemic, and while working within the community.

“The ability to work from home would not change the nature of CYF’s very important work in our community or the need for caseworkers to conduct field work at times in order to ensure the safety of children,” Commissioner Laura Burke said Tuesday during the commissioners meeting.

SEIU Local 668, the Harrisburg-based union representing CYF staff, distributed a news release critical of Blair County’s position and contending that social workers in other counties are working from home, providing them with more protection during the pandemic.

Burke contends that Blair County has taken protective measures, by creating social distancing within the CYF office, by undertaking extra cleaning and by distributing protective N95 masks, supplied by the county’s Emergency Management Agency.

The union, in its news release, said the county isn’t cleaning surfaces inside and outside the courthouse to standards recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“If the commissioners in Blair mandate that workers must come into the courthouse every day, then they should also make the same effort to implement even the most basic of safety procedures,” SEIU Local 668 President Steve Cantanese said.

Burke said the county is following CDC guidelines for best hygiene practices.

“Our maintenance folks have done a superb job,” Commissioner Bruce Erb said of the cleaning effort that has included replacement of air filters.

Erb and Burke also acknowledged another reason against permitting CYF staff to work at home: The 2017 breach of a statewide database exposing children and youth confidential information. Burke wasn’t a commissioner at that time but Erb was and he recalled the heightened concern and potential liability which could have fallen upon counties, including Blair.

“That was not a good experience,” Erb said.

Three months after the breach was discovered, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania rendered results of an investigation finding no inappropriate use of the confidential information.

Through its news release, the union called upon Blair County commissioners to consider greater protections for CYF employees who are working.

Burke said discussions are ongoing and commissioners remain open to additional measures that could be taken. She also said CYF caseworkers are first responders whose safety cannot be 100 percent guaranteed.

“I think we all wish this situation was different,” she said. “But we are doing the best we can under the circumstances.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.

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