Florida state employees are being threatened with demotions if they complain about not being notified when a colleague becomes seriously ill or dies from COVID-19, according to a report from the Tampa Bay Times.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis' "efforts to keep Florida open" have had devastating impacts on state agencies — with entire offices closing due to outbreaks, and three state prisons shuttering due to a lack of corrections officers, the newspaper reported Monday.
"The workers are very scared," said Vicki Hall, president of a union that represents nearly half of Florida's 105,000 state employees. "The governor wants everything open and running. ... Management is not taking it seriously."
DeSantis' administration ordered state workers to return to their offices last October, with social distancing and masks optional.
One Department of Revenue employee complained recently that, "They don't tell us when people have been in the building sick. We have to hear through the grapevine that someone is in the hospital or dead. If we complain, we are offered demotions."
Democratic state Sen. Loranne Ausley told the newspaper, "Many state employees live in fear of making any noise. They call us and don't even say what agency they're calling from."
Ausley recently co-authored a letter from Democratic lawmakers to DeSantis citing a "lack of precautions" at state offices and pleading with the governor to allow employees to return to working remotely.
"I get contacted daily about state employees who are fearful about getting COVID," said Rep. Allison Tant, another co-author of the letter. "I don't think there was a single constituent who reached out to me who was not worried about retribution."
DeSantis' office declined to comment on the report, and state agencies have refused to provide data about COVID-19 cases among employees.