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HGEA preparing COVID-19 class action grievance

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The Hawaii Government Employees Association, Hawaii’s largest public workers’ union, said it’s preparing a class action grievance on behalf of all employees affected by the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, including reports that employees have been denied telework requests.

HGEA officials voiced their “solidarity” with their UPW “brothers and sisters” who on Tuesday called for the immediate removal of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda.

HGEA officials also criticized the state Department of Health and called on state leaders “to take prompt action to address these concerns in the interest of the health and safety of our entire community.”

Asked for comment Wednesday, Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Toni Schwartz repeated an earlier statement in which she said, “The Department of Public Safety will continue to engage in on-going discussions with UPW to resolve concerns expressed by our employees. Together, we will navigate through the unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic impacting our state and facilities.”

HGEA officials also called for safety protocol improvements at Oahu Community Correctional Center, the Honolulu District Court Cellblock, Hawaii Paroling Authority and Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

“It is outrageous that frontline workers in correctional institutions, the cellblock, Hawaii Paroling Authority and at our international airport are not properly fitted with N95 face masks, don’t have clear safety protocols, and are not properly notified when there is a positive case in their facilities,” HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira said in a statement. “Continued attempts to communicate with the administration have failed and with COVID-19 surging on Oahu, people’s lives are at stake.”

As of Wednesday, DPS said that 57 staff and 245 inmates had tested positive for COVID-19.

HGEA said in a statement that, “Our members have lost faith in the leadership of PSD and the Department of Health. For months we have been going through proper channels asking for clear, practical guidance on basic health and safety questions and standard operating procedures related to COVID-19 positive cases, and yet to this day, only vague generalities and Department of Health and CDC guidelines have been provided. Further, despite the governor’s most recent imposition of another lockdown of two weeks on Oahu, we are getting reports of PSD employees having their telework requests denied.”

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