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The House HSS and State Affairs committees are meeting on COVID-19 safety in high-risk state facilities.

It'd be REALLY interesting given state's plan to open Pioneer Homes to visitors but it looks like the administration is a no-show.

#akleg #akgov…
First up was testimony from Marvin Jones, the president of Unite Here, who says hotel workers need better protections, saying there's "a financial pressure to work."

That some hotels have no safety and no training in place to deal with it.

Then they play a video from Unite Here of a call between an employee and someone with the Anchorage Hilton, where the supervisor appears to say if they're asymptomatic that they're fine to come in.

The employee said they had some symptoms and got tested.

The supervisor says they got the asymptomatic guidance from the health department.

Rep. Jackson asks, though, why the people didn't go to the testing provider approved by the Anchorage Hilton.

Jones is back on.

He says that hotels are frequently not telling employees that they may have come in contact with COVID-19, specifically in cases where hotels are serving as quarantine spots.

Rep. Vance: Did you ask the Hilton to come and provide testimony?

Fields: We have not invited them, we just heard this video.

Vance: They should have an opportunity to show their processes to keep people safe or not.

Now up is Alaska Correctional Officers Association business agent Joshua Wilson who says, surprise, the state is not doing nearly enough to protect prisons--prisoners and corrections officers--from COVID-19.

Chronic understaffing is contributing to officer burnout.

Wilson says the state has not taken any of the understaffing issues seriously, not yet taking advantage of new funding from #akleg to recruit additional officers. He says Palmer Correctional Center is STILL not open either.
Wilson says the state has also halted its regular meetings with the unions. He says they met with ACOA just once in the last nine months, "and that's just so they could say they have."

Wilson says they still really don't have a good idea of how COVID-19 got into some of the prisons. Says there's not been sufficient testing in the prisons (the state has previously declined offers to test inmates).

Wilson says there's still no visits allowed to Alaska prisons, which he says will stay in place to protect prisons and officers.

Meanwhile the state is opening up some visits to Pioneer Homes.

Prisons ARE, as of July 1, now testing everyone who is remanded to prisons. Wilson says it's better late than never, but says there's no blanket regime for inmates.

Wilson says that correctional officers are not being prioritized when it comes to access to personal protective equipment like N95 masks. Troopers are getting them, though, without caveats.

Fields said he would sure like to get answers from the state on these issues but "We invited the department and they declined to attend."

And now Rep. Vance is asking about union dues... because of course.

Vance wants to know if the union is buying PPE for corrections officers. They get union dues, after all, she asks.

"My question in no way removes the obligation of the state of Alaska, the employer, to provide those."

Wison says that actually, yes, the union has tried to get masks for the correctional officers but there weren't N95 available for every officer.

He says the state put inmates to work and have provided correctional officers with 2 cloth masks each.

Vance wants to know what the correction officers want. She asks why they don't think cloth masks "are protective enough."

(Cloth masks are not supposed to offer any protection for you, it's to limit exposure to others, but hey.)

Wilson says N95 masks protect.

Vance wants to know how many N95 masks the correctional officers need.

Wilson: If they want one, they should have access to one.

Vance: "There's a lot of benevolent groups" out there to supply masks to officers. And says there's way to sanitize masks with new technologies.

Now they're moving onto the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

Fields hoped to have someone from the administration there to talk about safety at API, especially given reports about Wellpath's handling of other institutions that have led to deaths.

The admin refused to show.

Here's that story Fields was referencing:…

“It’s a pride issue. The mentality of the infirmary is: these individuals are worthless.”
In the absence of anyone from the admin, ASEA Jake Metcalfe is now up.

He's relaying concerns from employees at API and Pioneer Homes that they don't feel safe with the proposed reopening of the Pioneer Homes and are concerned that residents will get sick and die.

Metcalfe says the union is eager to work with the state to improve workplace safety, particularly in these high-risk facilities, but so far the Dunleavy administration has refused to work with them.

"We don't understand why it can't happen."

Metcalfe says the union-and it sounds like employees-were not consulted about reopening the Pioneer Homes.

He says the state should be working with the unions about these changes because it's a matter of health and safety of employees but they've so far been locked out.

Now they're hearing from Corinne Conlon, a former employee with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, who says she quit because the state wasn't taking workplace safety seriously.

Conlon basically said the entirety of the state's in-office reopening plan was "wash your hands, don't come to work if you feel sick."

She says the Department of Administration's reopening plan has been nonexistent and has relied on individual departments.

She's describing a situation where everyone was called in--told on a Friday they're supposed to come in Monday--TO DO AN ONLINE TRAINING COURSE.

She had a recent case of bronchitis and flagged the issue with the state.

She was told that "this is it," either you come in or you're out.

"I think a lot of state employees don't have the freedom and the ability to share openly because of concerns about retaliation."

Zulkosky says it's a missed opportunity and would wish that the administration would be here to answer questions.

Fields: This testimony is un-be-lieve-able.

Rep. Hannan thanks Conlin for her testimony, saying that it's critical to hear it directly from an employee. She says people would have thought it hyperbole.

Rep. Mike Prax complains that people are going to the #akleg, says he thinks that there's a proper workplace grievance system.
Metcalfe says they have filed a grievance over workplace safety.

He says, though, a more proper process is a cooperative negotiation between the employer and employees. He says the employees have first-hand knowledge about what it'll take to be safe.

Metcalfe says that grievance process "has reached a dead end."

He says the state's now operating like there's no longer an emergency even though it's state employees and residents of Pioneer Homes, API, correctional facilities that are at risk.

Rep. Thompson says it's clear the Dunleavy admin isn't listening: "I really think we've got a problem here and hope we can do something where the people's concerns are considered and answered and some of those are taken into consideration..."

Thompson, continued: "... because right now it sounds like we're running by the seat of our pants and whatever happens, happens."

And that's the end of that meeting.

Zero input from the administration.

Dang. Clarification on this. ASEA has NOT filed a grievance but has been working through the normal channels before escalating to that.

Metcalfe said they’re at the end of the road with the play-nice option.
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