Brian R. Marvel
I want to start by thanking you for being a valued member of PORAC during these uncertain times. I know everyone is working hard to keep their communities safe while also keeping themselves and their families healthy. Although the PORAC office is closed, we are working very hard on the state and federal level to make sure the working conditions and safety of all first responders and public safety officers are not left out of the equation as elected officials react to the coronavirus pandemic. Here are the top priorities we are working on:
- Requesting personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Priority testing for first responders
- Making COVID-19 a workers’ compensation presumption
- Major funding for equipment, personnel, compensation and other costs associated with COVID-19
- When a vaccine becomes available, first responders are a priority
With these goals in mind, we reached out to the offices of the Governor, Senate Pro Tem and Speaker, asking for immediate assistance. Vice President Kurtz, the Executive Committee and I held several tele-townhall meetings broken up by region for all our statewide and federal elected officials. We stressed the importance of PPE and testing. Seattle and Chicago created first responder testing sites, which have been a huge success. They are easily replicable and there’s no reason why California can’t do it too. Longer-term priorities include making sure COVID-19 is a presumption under workers’ comp and including first responders among the highest priorities to receive a vaccine if a protocol is approved by the FDA. We’ve asked our advocates in Washington, D.C., to make the same requests of our elected leaders at the federal level. Rest assured that PORAC will make the workers’ comp issue one of our top concerns in the coming weeks or months. As of this writing, the State Legislature is in recess until at least April 13, but lawmakers are still working remotely. During this time, we will continue to lobby to make COVID-19 a presumption. Due to the projected infection rate, we believe it’s vitally important to make sure this is covered. Check out our website for all the letters that were sent.
As we deal with this unprecedented pandemic as labor leaders, we need to make sure that we’re addressing our collective bargaining issues within our respective jurisdictions. The highest priorities should be securing adequate safety equipment and establishing agreements regarding paid administrative leave for first responders who are forced to stay home from work. There should be presumptive sick leave usage without medical verification due to illness, and if the employee is able to prove that it was COVID-19 they should qualify for paid administrative leave. You need to be very cognizant of shift and vacation schedules and how your departments will handle those. Some other options to look at are waiving leave accrual caps and waiving copays and out-of-pocket expenses associated with COVID-19. These are just a few of the items that your collective bargaining units need to be advocating for.
Labor leaders should be actively working with their mayors, county supervisors and human resources departments to ensure that they get either written agreements or tentative verbal agreements that can later be codified in writing. Make sure that your union leaders aren’t forgoing their meet-and-confer rights because of the declared emergency — now more than ever, it is important to stress and exercise those rights. As labor leaders, we have to demand the facts, including the source of the information that the city, county or state is relying on. If there are going to be unilateral changes within your agency, your government must articulate why these changes are necessary. Please utilize your law firm’s expertise in this area. We have the best attorneys in the nation working for PORAC associations.
It’s become abundantly clear that agencies are canceling leave and training. What’s being closed and modified changes hour by hour, so as first responders we need to make sure that we’re using all of the training we’ve received in regard to washing our hands, using hand sanitizer, using face masks as appropriate and protecting ourselves when dealing with the public in the course of our duties. Better to be overprepared in contacting someone who may have COVID-19 than to be underprepared. No one wants to infect our colleagues or family, and your community is counting on you. It is during such times that we always rise to the occasion and exceed expectations.
As we are asking you to be cautious at work, we are taking the same precautions with our events, as well. As you may have heard by now, PORAC has made the decision to cancel April’s IMPACT 2020 Symposium and POREF Open Golf Tournament. While it was a difficult choice to make, it was the right one. We know this is the best course of action to protect the health of our members, presenters, guests, staff and their families. In case you haven’t heard, with deep sadness, the California Peace Officers’ Memorial Ceremony in May has been canceled due to issues outside CPOMF’s control. Although we won’t be able to honor our fallen officers in the traditional way, we want to make sure the family members of the fallen are not forgotten. They need to know that we are here for them and will support them. They may not receive formal recognition this May, but I know the CPOMF board will do everything in their power to make sure we do something to pay tribute to the fallen, either later this year or at the 2021 event. In addition, I have been informed that the national memorial, Police Week, has also been canceled. However, they plan on having a virtual candlelight vigil on Wednesday, May 13, to read the names of the fallen who were to be enrolled on the wall this year. You can watch this from anywhere in the world. Please go to nleomf.org for additional information.
As we all face new and escalating dangers in the course of our duties, I want to remind you of PORAC’s Hazardous Exposure Listing Program (HELP). This is a free tool for all PORAC members, and there is no better time than now to create an account and start documenting any exposures you’ve had that are hazardous to your health. I know we all have reporting systems in our own respective agencies, but this is a private, confidential system that you control to track your own exposures, just in case your agency loses or forgets about them. Learn more and get started today at PORAC.org/resources/hazardous-exposure-listing-program.
Please be sure to follow PORAC’s social media platforms, where we’ll continue to put out up-to-the-minute information as soon as we receive and verify it. Please send any COVID-19 information about your agency or members doing great work to COVID19@porac.org. Stay safe and healthy.