AFSCME Virginia Members Succeed in Making Temporary COVID Safety Precautions Permanent.

The Virginia Safety and Health Codes Board (VOSH) recently made their first-in-the-nation temporary COVID-19 safety standards permanent. AFSCME Virginia supporters across the commonwealth are grateful for the stringent permanent standards and proud of the role they played. Anthony Pistone, an employee with Water, Sewer, and Streets Division of Environmental Services and doting grandfather, provided public testimony for both the temporary standards and pushed to make them permanent. “Strong enforcement mechanisms will mean more compliance. Virginia has shown leadership being first in the nation to enact these temporary emergency standards, and the commonwealth will continue to lead by making the standards permanent. 

The new permanent standards largely mirror the temporary standards, which groups worksites into categories of high, medium, and low exposure risk. It continues a requirement for employers to create a workplace infection protection program and to train workers on how to comply. In addition, the standard sets mandates for on-the-job social distancing, cleaning, and the wearing of face masks. Diana Reynoso an Alexandria City employee shares how invaluable these precautions are for her when she was required to be in such close contact with the public as a Human Services Customer Service engineer. “When fingerprinting we must be less than 6 feet from the person, touching the person's hand to make sure we capture their fingerprints. Although this is no longer my duty, I still worry about my co-workers that have this task which puts them at a higher risk for COVID-19 exposure. We all worry about our health and safety during this difficult time.  Even though I am no longer at a higher risk, I wouldn’t want to get exposed to COVID and bring it home to my husband--who does not have paid sick leave. If that happens, he could be without pay for 14 days or longer. These permanent safety requirements are necessary for our communities and for our families.” 

The temporary rules came into effect in July 2020. Members of AFSCME Council 20, AFSCME’s Education Department, and AFSCME Virginia then held a one-day training to fully train city, county, and commonwealth employees on the temporary standards. “The VOSH training provided by our union is an excellent tool for educating ourselves about the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and how to maintain safe and healthy work environments. Armed with this information, I feel better equipped to take an active role in promoting workplace safety and ensuring that our management remains accountable." Luis Velez Sr., Construction Management Specialist in Arlington County, shares.  

The permanent rule’s effective date is undetermined, yet AFSMCE Members are advocating for it to take effect Jan. 27, 2021meanwhile, the Emergency Temporary Standard is set to expire Jan. 26, 2021. The new rule is poised to take effect following a review by the office of Gov. Ralph Northam (D). AFSCME Virginia will continue to provide training and education opportunities around the safety and care of public service employees. You can learn more at