Conn. unions want workers' comp benefits for COs with COVID-19

"Now it's Connecticut's turn to protect us," Collin Provost, a state prison corrections officer and union president, said


By Ken Dixon
Connecticut Post

EAST HAVEN, Conn. — State unions leaders on Monday joined the leaders of the legislative labor committee in asking for essential workers in the coronavirus pandemic to be eligible for workers’ compensation if they fall ill with COVID-19.

Joe Jarmie of East Haven, a veteran unionized meat cutter at the Madison Stop & Shop who deals with customers all day, is worried that he will bringing the virus home. He said that while the company has provided workers with masks.

“We spent the first month of this crisis with no protection and masks aren’t fool proof,” Jarmie said.

Collin Provost, a state prison correction officer who is president of AFSCME Local 391, said that it’s clear that he and other prison workers head into hot zones every day. The latest statistics indicate 165 correction officers sand 246 inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, making a dangerous job even more so. He said that stress is building among correction officers.

“Now it’s Connecticut’s turn to protect us,” Provost said during a late-morning video news conference with Sal Luciano, president of the state AFL-CIO, and Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury and Rep. Robyn Porter.

“There are so many workers on the front line today,” Kushner said. “My real concern the state is talking about how we’re going to reopen and as they discuss this I think it’s critical that there will be a cost to reopening, and in some cases that cost will be human. It will be human sickness and it will be human lives. One of the things we must do as a state is make sure than those folks are at least given the peace of mind that if they do get sick there will be workers’ comp to pay their bills and take care of them.”

Porter, who is co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Labor and Public Employees Committee with Kushner, said that essential workers are making it safe for others to stay at home during the pandemic. She said that several states, including Kentucky, Arkansas, Michigan and Missouri are allowing COVID-19 patients to claim workers’ compensation.

“I think the biggest frustration for me around this that we have been calling you all essential and frontline workers, when in actuality we’ve been treating you like sacrificial lambs,” Porter said. “That is very disturbing to me, because at the end of the day everyone should be protected. We are desperately pushing for this workers’ comp.”

“These courageous workers are keeping our state running during this public health emergency, often without adequate protective personal gear and are jeopardizing their health and the health of their loved ones in the process,” Luciano told reporters. “Everyone knows about our doctors, nurses, correction officers, police, firefighters and grocery store workers, but there are other essential workers such as public transit, building workers and many others.”

He said that thousands of state worker have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, and asked for Gov. Ned Lamont to issue and executive order to create changes to workers’ compensation law that would allow for the presumption of a work-related cause for essential employees who contract COVID-19.

“This would allow these critical workers to receive important health care and wage-replacement benefits to the worker’s compensation system,” Luciano said. Such an executive order would likely discourage appeals processes with employers and insurance companies.

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©2020 the Connecticut Post (Bridgeport, Conn.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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