RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond union workers rallied Friday to demand hazard pay, additional PPE and COVID-19 testing for staff. Rally-goers also demanded protections for veterans and employees.

Beginning at 4 p.m., the rally took place at the main entrance of the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center. Organizers behind the rally included the AFGE National VA Council, which represents over 265,000 VA employees, according to a release.

The protest was in response to a national petition on April 9 calling on the Department of Veteran Affairs to provide “PPE, telework options, weather and safety leave, hazard pay, testing and better communication, training and planning.” 

8News spoke with Cadeidra Green, a member of local union 2145 and she says they’ve made multiple efforts to reach out to the VA Secretary Robert Wilkie with no response.

“And no one has met with us,” she added. “Employees have voiced their concerns about their leave, without adequate PPE, no space. Some people work in a room full of 16 people and no office space. Elbow to elbow, no way they can social distance. People are told to bring their own disinfectant to work, some people are not provided a mask for seven days.”

The rally, located at 1201 Broad Rock Blvd., lasted more than an hour, ending at 5:30 p.m. All rally participants followed CDC guidelines of social distancing.

8News reached out to the United Department of Veterans Affairs for a response to the rally. Their full statement read as followed:

The Central Virginia VA Health Care System’s PPE practices have helped limit its COVID-19 employee infection rates to 0.9 percent of the workforce – much lower than other health care systems. By contrast, 4.4 percent of the University of Washington Medicine employees have tested positive and 2.1 percent of Henry Ford Health System’s workforce has tested positive.

CVHCS continues to use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in accordance with CDC guidelines, and all employees have the appropriate PPE, as per those guidelines.

All federal employees, including VA employees, accrue paid annual and sick leave. Per VA and OPM regulations, as well as CDC guidance, VA encourages employees to use paid sick leave if they are ill, experiencing symptoms of any illness, or diagnosed with COVID-19. 

Staff may also apply for advanced sick leave, annual leave or telework, if they are asymptomatic, have not tested positive and feel the need to self-quarantine.  Additionally, weather and safety leave may be granted if an employee is asymptomatic, has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and cannot telework.

Regarding hazard pay

Hazard pay is to compensate employees when risks cannot be reasonably mitigated and employees cannot be safely protected, and that is the opposite of the current environment at the Central Virginia VA Health Care System.

Regarding Testing

Testing of employees who have been exposed to patients with COVID-19 in the VA health care setting may be accomplished via the VA Medical Center facility, local health departments, or community resources, depending on what resources for testing are available to the surrounding community.

Ronald Johnson, Director, Central Virginia VA Health Care System

The union says nearly 2,000 members work at McGuire Va Medical Center.