Missouri’s state workers’ union pushes back on return to office order from Gov. Parson

Published: Jun. 10, 2021 at 8:27 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 10, 2021 at 5:40 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A union representing Missouri state workers is urging Gov. Mike Parson to make accommodations for state workers ordered last month to return to their offices, calling the directive “dangerous.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the president of the Missouri State Workers Union Communications Workers of America Local 6355 wrote to Parson on Wednesday.

The union asks that Parson consider demands that include paid time off to get vaccinated, personal protective equipment for employees, and that the state set up a process so workers with family and child care responsibilities may request a delayed return.

“The pandemic is not over,” said Natashia Pickens, the President of the union on Thursday in an interview with KY3. “Things are getting better but we still have a vast majority of Missourians that have not been vaccinated and unfortunately people are still passing away.”

That’s why the union that represents over 5,600 state workers from the Department of Social Services and the Department of Health and Senior Services is firing back at Parson’s recent requirement that all state employees return to their offices by May 17, after many of them had been working remotely for the previous 14 months.

Pickens said the state workers union was not consulted about conditions for the return of state employees and that it’s been left up to individual managers to decide how the situation should be handled. She also pointed out that the lack of personal protection guidelines are not safe for both employees and those they serve.

“It’s definitely not fair to the public because the folks that we represent are a vulnerable community already,” Pickens explained. “Many of them don’t have access to healthcare and some of them are living in horrible conditions.”

Another main concern for the union is that their employees will have a hard time finding child care once they return to work. Pickens also suggested it could have an ironic twist for those who work at certain state jobs.

“Some of them work in the Children’s Division,” she said. “These are the ones that respond to these abuse and neglect hotlines. And we just don’t want it to be where an employee has to choose whether to leave their child at home and possibly be reported for abuse and neglect.”

The union is wanting protections in place like glass or plexiglass partitions and yes, a mask mandate, something state workers were never required to do even during the worst of the pandemic.

“As with anything there’s always going to be push back,” Pickens responded when asked if state employees might not welcome having to wear a mask. “We’re a tight knit family and I think that if the message is that we’re doing it for everyone’s safety, everyone overall will be for it.”

The Governor never touched the political hot potato of a statewide mask mandate either. So why would he acquiesce now for state employees?

“This is just a flat out human rights thing and it shouldn’t be based on a party decision,” Pickens answered. “The state looks at it like this is a job you have to do and not putting protections in place for those workers. When you pass away they’re going to box your stuff up and set it on a desk or in a closet. And this person has lost their life because of the state’s negligence. It’s something that can be prevented.”

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