Several legislative staffers are concerned coming back to work next month could unnecessarily expose them to the risk of coronavirus, and is just a political exercise.
On Thursday, House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, announced staffers would be coming back to work at the Riffe Center offices and the Ohio Statehouse two days a week starting on May 4, while still working from home the other three days a week.
The Senate has yet to release a reopening plan, but the work-from-home policy they enacted also expires on May 1.
The House’s announcement said staff start times will be staggered and temperatures will be checked when legislative aides and others enter the building.
“Employees may wear masks and must maintain adherence to strict social distancing as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control,” the announcement provided to media stated.
Employees of the House say they are worried about not only their wellbeing, but the wellbeing of their immuno-deficient friends and family if they are required to report to work, even two days a week.
Those who talked with the Capital Journal were quoted on the condition of anonymity.
“There is truly nothing we do there that we cannot do from home,” said one legislative aide. “We were told this is happening because ‘this is what the speaker wants.’”
Some say they feel this move by the House ties in with comments made during the Ohio House’s Economic Recovery Task Force meetings, in which it has been suggested that the closure of the state has gone on too long.
“We’re pretty unhappy with this. It’s just evident that Householder’s not looking out for our best interests; he’s just looking out for his best interests,” one aide said.
The staffers said they felt supported by the state representatives they worked for, but still don’t feel like their concerns are being heard by the speaker. They said their bosses had even noted that there had been no complaints about the work the legislative aides and others had been doing from home.
A majority of that work these days includes directing calls to state reps about unemployment claims from single mothers and struggling families trying to make ends meet.
The “arbitrary policies” as the staffer call them come as the staffers work harder than ever.
“We’re in a public health crisis where we’re getting 3 to 4 times more emails and calls than ever before,” said one aide.
One legislative aide said the culture of the Statehouse employees is to work beyond the 40 hours even if administrator policies discourage it, which makes the staffer wonder if the offer for anyone who has medical conditions or family with medical conditions to request to continue their full-time work from home will be honored.
“Some of my closest friends have conditions that could put them at risk (if exposed to the virus),” said the staffer.
The House announcement did not mention representatives, but a House Session remains “if needed” on the legislative calendar for May 5.
Susan Tebben is an award-winning journalist with a decade of experience covering Ohio news, including courts and crime, Appalachian social issues, government, education, diversity and culture. She has worked for The Newark Advocate, The Glasgow Daily Times, The Athens Messenger, and WOUB Public Media. She has also had work featured on National Public Radio. Read more Ohio Capital Journal stories here.