State workers union expresses concerns about coronavirus exposure risks

The Alaska State Employees Association sign on their office window. (David Purdy/KTOO)

Alaska’s largest union for state workers has expressed concern that its members have been unnecessarily exposed to the risk of contracting COVID-19.

Alaska State Employees Association Executive Director Jake Metcalfe said state workers are dealing with the public in ways that run counter to recommendations from President Donald Trump and state Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink.

“Their concern is going up every day,” Metcalfe said. “They simply want some kind of message about what’s going to happen in their workplace, and what safety protocols are taking place.”

Metcalfe said Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration hasn’t responded to the union’s requests for information on safety.

The union includes state workers who come into contact with the public — like those at the Motor Vehicle and Permanent Fund Dividend divisions.

Dunleavy told state workers Tuesday that the state is initiating telework options on a large scale, but it’s still figuring out which groups can work from home. He said Monday it’s also considering which workers face lower risk because they’re isolated in their jobs.

“There’ll be protocols put in place,” Dunleavy said. “We have thousands and thousands of state workers who are incredibly valuable in making sure that state government runs. We have to be very careful that we don’t shut down aspects of state government, but at the same time, provide for the health and safety of our state workers.”

Related: Read more coronavirus coverage from Alaska Public Media.

In an email to state workers, the Department of Administration said the state is identifying needs, and also acquiring equipment and training. It’s conducting a pilot program with select divisions and offices throughout the state in the coming week, the email said.

Also, the state is researching how to implement physical barriers to protect workers who directly interact with the public in areas like DMV windows.

Metcalfe sent an email to the state administration and health commissioners Monday night asking them for assurance that the state is following state and federal recommendations to slow the virus. As of Tuesday afternoon, he had not yet received a reply.

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