The COVID-19 crisis has reminded our community what is important. Family, community, and service are areas where we are finding strength and courage. The Orange County Employees Association proudly represents thousands of public workers who work for the County, Cities and Special Districts in every part of Orange County. These workers are on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic, serving our community and keeping us safe.

Orange County public servants are meeting this crisis with a level of courage and professionalism that fills our community with pride. Lab technicians, public health nurses, biologists, and more are working overtime to halt the spread of the virus and save lives. Other public servants are working every day to keep local government working.

As these everyday members of our community step up in this crisis, we need local leadership that is 100% focused on safety for every person in our community, security for every front-line worker, and stability for the vital public services upon which our community. These public services will be needed more than ever when we are able to build a post COVID-19 future.

Immediate action must be taken locally to protect social services and community safety workers who are seeing us through this crisis. All measures must be taken to provide public health nurses, doctors, lab technicians and other public health workers the necessary protective equipment they require. These people are your neighbors, friends and fellow residents. If they are serving our community, they deserve clear and consistent guidelines for what workers should do if they are exposed to COVID-19. Local governments need to require hospital-level sanitation efforts to keep public facilities free from contamination.

When these public servants are on the front lines, they need the financial security to meet this challenge head-on. Some workers are now more likely to be exposed to COVID-19 during their duties. In some cases, they might require hazard pay every moment they are at risk. Workers deserve paid sick leave when they are impacted by COVID-19. This can be for their own health, caring for a loved one, or for those in high risk populations. The public workers who directly serve our communities face the greatest risk of exposure. We must protect the health and finances of workers who risk getting ill during their duties.

As a community we must ensure that essential county operations remain stable and uninterrupted for the duration of the crisis. Wherever feasible, local governments must implement flexible work arrangements. Families are making radical adjustments with school closures and child-care disruptions and employers must be equally flexible. Employers must also reconfigure workspaces that conform to social distancing guidelines from the CDC. We know some workers won’t be able to work remotely, but we can try to protect them from exposure when performing vital duties.

Workers thank the community-focused public employers who are leading the way. They are providing safety, security and stability to public servants while protecting the community. Cities like Irvine, Costa Mesa, Orange, Anaheim, Laguna Niguel, and Fountain Valley, Special Districts such as the Moulton Niguel Water District and Orange County Fire Authority, and the Orange County Superior Court, have taken then necessary steps to protect the community and their workers. There is no “one-size fits all” solution. However, working in collaboration with the public servants in your community, we can find solutions that keep us all safe.

The gifts of our democracy must be safeguarded and maintained. The right to vote, due process, clean air, clean water, safe food, good schools, open space, good jobs, and so much more cannot be taken for granted. The more we commit to taking care of each other, the better the outcome for all of us.

Charles Barfield, General Manger
Orange County Employees Association

The Orange County Employees Association is the largest public sector union in Orange County representing approximately 18,000 workers. OCEA members are public health nurses, law enforcement officials, food inspectors, and other public workers who come to work every day with a mission to keep our communities safe and healthy. OCEA members work for the County of Orange, Orange County Superior Court, and various cities and districts throughout Orange County.

Opinions expressed in community opinion pieces belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

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