Our NAPE contract requires the state to provide all employees with a safe working environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has presented numerous safety challenges, but the situation at the Omaha DMV is particularly concerning after nearly a year into the pandemic. Members of the public are not required to wear masks at the DMV, there are no plexiglass barriers between the employees and the public, and six feet of physical distance cannot be maintained.
NAPE members, led by NAPE Steward Becky Overman, filed a grievance alleging the DMV failed to provide a safe working environment when it refused to provide plexiglass barriers to protect employees working the DMV counter from COVID-19 in accordance with current CDC guidelines.
Becky reached out to NAPE after raising her concerns with her supervisor. These concerns were raised in response to an all staff email reminding staff to employees to review the agency COVID plan and to direct any questions to their supervisor. Becky raised a number of concerns relating to DMV Omaha Metro West location’s failure to comply with the DMV COVID Plan, and also brought up the lack of plexiglass counter partitions into question. Her supervisor responded that the DMV would not provide counter partitions.
DMV employees are required to wear face coverings and are offered face shields in lieu of installed counter partitions. Employees cannot require or suggest that customers wear face coverings and must remain at their counter even when customers are closer than six feet.
Based on the Hierarchy of Controls from the CDC, efforts referred to as Engineering controls are more effective protections against COVID-19 transmission than Administrative and PPE controls. Engineering controls are efforts which isolate people from the hazard through actions such as countertop barriers, while Administrative and PPE controls are changes to the way people work within existing processes where hazards are not particularly well controlled. This CDC issued safety measure helps clarify that face shields and countertop partitions are not equivalent safety measures because only countertop partitions effectively isolate individuals from the hazard of COVID-19.
While the DMV has the ability to augment the safety controls in place to ensure a safe working environment, they believe their current plan is sufficient and there is no need for further action in order “to maintain safety of employees and the public.”
Installing a physical barrier between customers and employees will stop aerosol droplets expelled by the customer from reaching the employee when completing tasks which require standing closer to the counter than the recommended six feet. The current state of the DMV workplace does not follow CDC safety recommendations which is putting employee safety at unnecessary risk. It is the agency’s contractual responsibility to keep the work environment safe. The continued failure of the DMV to protect frontline employees is troubling.
The case has been appealed to binding arbitration, and we expect the case to be heard by an arbitrator in April or May. NAPE is committed to ensuring the safety of our members! If you have a safety concern at your workplace, you can report the concern here or contact us.