Union: Registry worker in Boston likely had COVID-19
Agency says illness ‘unconfirmed,’ declined to notify public
THE REGISTRY OF MOTOR VEHICLES shut its Haymarket branch in Boston for the past week after an employee exhibited COVID-19 symptoms, according to union officials.
An official with the National Association of Government Employees, which represents Registry workers, said the employee who was sick had gone to the hospital more than a week before officials abruptly closed the branch on April 3. The employee was told by an emergency room physician that she likely had COVID-19 but was not given a test because she did not qualify under the protocol at the time for symptoms or demographics.
“We notified them on Thursday, (March) 26th, that we believe they had a problem,” said John Mann, president of Unit A of the NAGE. “The employee was diagnosed in the emergency room but couldn’t get a test but the doctor told her because of everything she showed, assume she was positive for COVID-19. Based on that, I contacted the RMV to tell them what the story was, and they hadn’t heard anything about it. (The employee) had texted her manager and indicated she was suffering from symptoms consistent with COVID. He texted back and said ‘hope you feel better’ and never reported it up the chain.”
Mann said those texts were turned over to Registry officials but no action was taken.
Riley insisted in a subsequent email that the employee’s illness was “unconfirmed” and repeated that the worker only exhibited flu-like symptoms that did not necessitate taking precautions for coronavirus, such as notification of the public or testing. Riley said Haymarket co-workers were told to stay home for two weeks as a precautionary measure and said the branch will reopen Monday with protective plexiglass in place and staff from other branches brought in.
“The Registry is following the guidelines of the CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health for social-distancing, enhanced cleaning, and taking other steps to protect the health and safety of staff and the public,” Riley wrote. “The RMV reports workforce information to state officials.”
Mann said Registry officials can call the case unconfirmed because no test was given but only because of testing protocols in place at the time. Mann said agency officials interviewed the woman extensively and were given records from her hospital visit as well. He said the union asked that she be picked up and transported to a testing site because she was too ill to drive herself but Registry officials declined.
“MassDOT (Department of Transportation), for whatever reason, refuses to get involved in the process,” Mann said. “They interviewed my member and asked her detailed questions. The answers would leave no reasonable person with a shadow of a doubt.”
The Registry has closed most satellite offices and AAA has shut down its Registry operations during the pandemic, but seven locations around the state have remained open by appointment only for out-of-state license conversions, car registrations, commercial transactions, and several other items state officials deem essential.NAGE officials have called on the Baker administration to close down the remaining offices to protect both workers and customers, insisting most transactions can be done online and those that can’t can wait with extensions being granted. Secretary of Transportation Stephanie Pollack responded in a letter that the agency was essential in allowing commercial transporters to deliver necessary safety materials and enabling residents to get licenses and identification they need for collecting unemployment and health care. She said the union’s concerns about safeguards and safety equipment have been addressed and there is no threat to workers as long as protocols are being followed.
But Mann said that is still not enough. He pointed to an incident in the Plymouth branch this week in which a customer became irate when his transaction was rejected and took off his mask and coughed on the customer service representative. That, he said, was “assault” and an example about how much is out of control of officials in the tense environment. Shutting down offices and granting extensions is the only solution, he said.