HGEA leader blasting state response to coronavirus

HGEA leader blasting state response to coronavirus
(Source: Hawaii News Now/file)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The leader of the Hawaii Government Employees Association is blasting the state Department of Public Safety after a cluster of COVID-19 cases involving both employees and inmates at the Oahu Community Correctional Center.

“Frankly, we are tired of sending letters to the department seeking guidance and seeking some kind of direction for employees,” said Randy Perreira.

While the OCCC outbreak has infected more than 50 employees and 253 inmates, Perreira said the staff had to face the crisis on their own.

“So they are basically winging it, flying blind in every instance, having to deal with these custodies and these inmates,” he said.

The HGEA is joining the United Public Workers -- the union representing corrections officers -- in calling for the removal of Public Safety Director Nolan Espinda.

Perreira also said state agencies are trying to pin the blame on each other.

“Agencies are pointing fingers at each other,” said Perreira. “Public Safety points a finger at DHRD (Department of Human Resources Development), who in turn points a finger at the Department of Health. It’s a circle of everybody blaming everybody else but nobody being accountable.”

Perreira has one department on the top of his list.

“Very clearly this is a systematic failure that stems from the Department of Health, because they’ve chosen to be very tight-lipped about information that they provide,” he said.

In response, a spokesperson for Public Safety said, “The Department of Public Safety will continue to engage in on-going discussions with the unions to resolve concerns expressed by our employees. Together, we will navigate through the unprecedented challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic impacting our state and facilities.”

A spokesperson for the health department responded, “The Department of Health has been working closely with the Department of Public Safety to control and prevent COVID-19 cases within the prisons. We have staff who are dedicated to the outbreak at OCCC. Guidance on employee safety is posted on our website and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.”

Meanwhile, the Department of Education has reported 29 positive cases among employees. The Hawaii State Teachers Association has already filed a complaint saying the department refused to negotiate its school reopening plan.

Now the HSTA is pushing for more teachers to work from home.

“Some complex area superintendents have allowed educators to work from home, and others have said no. The same thing goes for principals” said HSTA President Corey Rosenlee. “There should be a unified process across the state, and unfortunately that has not happened.”

Among other state departments, the Judiciary has reported seven positive cases, while the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs reported one case.

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