Union members don’t agree with taking away the remote work option.

Paul Foster, a Health Services accountant and Local 1021 officer, said that he didn’t see why it couldn’t work. The fiscal year-end was in July 2021. This year was rough. We were able to accomplish it.

Rivera gave employees the option of requesting full-time remote work. It became another point of contention. A number of staffers wanted to work from home. Rivera said it was 10. She admitted that every request was denied.

“For those exceptions that may be formal requests for accommodations that would have accompanying medical notes, those would have gone to (Health Services’ human resources department) and would follow the County’s standard practices and procedures for medical accommodations,” county spokesman Matt Brown wrote in an email. The status of those that requested medical accommodation is protected information.

Exposure notices mount

Fiscal staff members were upset with the COVID protections on Neotomas Avenue.

When they first came back, no one was required to wear a mask. There was no new system of social distancing. Several times the air conditioning unit stopped working. At one point someone opened doors to the patio outside the break room and propped open two interior doors with fans to increase the air flow.

Rivera said that no county facilities were under a mask mandate, but mask recommendations have always been in place. If any additional equipment was required, it was purchased and installed and analyzed for air quality standards for smoke and COVID. We have air scrubbers in the building.

Within days of the return to in-person work, the COVID exposure notifications began to arrive.

As of Thursday, eight Health Services employees were out because of symptoms of coronaviruses. Staff notifications shared with The Press Democrat confirmed that those who were known to be in close contact with an infectious colleague didn’t have to go to bed.

Family members at risk

It wasn’t easy for employees to quickly return to on-site work after the Pandemic. That had to do with vulnerable relatives for some.

One fiscal worker who asked that her name not be used because she fears retaliation said that when they went back to the office she stayed with a family member who works with an elderly patient as a care giver and another member of the household who is immune-compromised with many underlying health When we got notices of exposure, I didn’t feel safe.

Abandoning remote work had a noticeable effect on Foster’s family.

He said he was in the hospital because he was summoned back to the office.

Foster’s father was living with him during the epidemic. Foster said that when Health Services employees returned to the office three days a week, he was no longer able to make sure his dad was eating well. His sister agreed to accept him.

Foster said that she was exposed to Covid when she came to SantaRosa. If I didn’t have to work, he’d be with me.

Foster’s father had been in the hospital.

The workers say there is low morale at Neotomas. And attendance is also a part of that. Joly said there were 16 people in the fiscal department by her count. She said on Tuesday it was at least 12 people.

Foster said there are six accountants. I think I was only one in.

‘One additional thing’ for businesses

Health Services is just one of many work settings that have to make virus-related risk calculations. According to Brown, the county’s epidemiological team is currently investigating 18 reports of possible outbreak at grocery and retail stores, manufacturing sites and wineries.

While Sonoma County businesses aren’t seeing the dire staffing shortages of the first Omicron wave in early January, shortages do persist, according to Peter Rumble, CEO of the SantaRosa Metro Chamber. That isn’t solely due to Covid.

The one additional thing that makes it more challenging is this. It’s like, we can’t fill a bunch of positions. We need to work around time out due to sickness, and on top of that, the positions I have, we need to work.

It all adds up to a difficult question for business managers: When is it safe to gather in an office, and which job positions are most likely to benefit from face to face interaction? It is generally favored by Rumble to open up as much as possible.

He said that the CDC is telling them that this is an endemic problem. It doesn’t mean the same thing as it did in March 2020. If we hear from the highest medical authority that this is endemic, then we need to start living like it. It means we need to get our vaccinations.

Health Services return-to-work order has been framed by Rivera. It is assumed that it will be in effect through July 31, the end of the fiscal-year. After Wednesday’s meeting, SEIU Local 1021 president and an employee at the Sonoma County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor-Registrar of Voters, has her doubts.

There will be no future time where Ms. Rivera feels telework will be appropriate for staff if the determining factor is whether there’s a back up of work.

Rivera did not give a definite time frame in exchanges with The Press Democrat.

She said that programs cannot exist without stable infrastructure and funding. Sometimes temporary measures are needed to address issues. It’s one of those times.

Phil Barber can be contacted at phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On the social media site,Skinny_ Post.