03.24.20

SCHUMER, HIGGINS REVEAL: CUSTOMS AND BORDER PROTECTION OFFICERS, INCLUDING THOSE WORKING IN WNY WORKING ON THE FRONTLINES OF CORONAVIRUS FIGHT, ARE NOT RECEIVING HAZARD PAY; REPS DEMAND DHS SECRETARY IMMEDIATELY IMPLEMENT PAYSCALE MEANT FOR OFFICIALS WORKING IN HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS

Despite The Quick, Devastating Spread Of Coronavirus In NY, CBP Officers Are Still Showing Up To Serve The Country 

CBP Officers Come Into Close Contact With Cross Border Traffic; Reps Say They Deserve Higher Pay For The Daily Risk They And Their Families Undertake 

Reps To DHS: CBP Officers Are Working In Hazardous Conditions; They Should Be Paid Accordingly ASAP

On the heels of the U.S.-Canadian agreement on border travel restriction, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins today demanded that Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Acting Secretary Wolf designate Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers as employees working under hazard, given the severe spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in New York. Schumer and Higgins said that the designation is essential, because it would allow CBP officers to receive hazard pay, providing financial insulation in the event that they or their family members are infected.

“CBP officers risk their own health, and the health of their families, to continue serving their country during a global pandemic, and they deserve better,” said Senator Schumer. “These officers are essential to the security of the U.S. and have shown up to serve, even in the midst of a crisis. They deserve better pay in these circumstances, especially because they come into such close contact with cross-border traffic on a daily basis.”

Congressman Higgins added, “Approximately 480 CBP officers staff Land Ports of Entry in Western New York, enabling for the necessary flow of commerce, supplies and emergency personnel crossings, while putting their own health and safety at risk.  They are among those on the frontlines.  Guidance dictates hazard pay for CBP officers and their response to the COVID-19 national emergency certainly warrants it.”

Schumer and Higgins explained that the conditions that CBP officers are working in have qualified for both criteria in determining whether employees are eligible for hazard pay. Those conditions are as follows:

  1. The actual circumstances of the specific hazard or physical hardship have changed from that taken into account and described in the position description.
  2. Using the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are described in the position description, the employee cannot control the hazard or physical hardship; thus, the risk is not reduced to a less than significant level (5 CFR § 550.904).

As the coronavirus spreads rapidly throughout New York, with roughly 5% of cases worldwide, and 50% of the cases in the United States as of March 22, Schumer and Higgins reasoned that not only are the current circumstances of a global pandemic far outside of what is expected for CBP officers, but also that they are unable to control their risk of exposure, leading to a perfect case to allocate hazard pay.

Schumer and Higgins’ push comes after both successfully called for clarification on travel restrictions imposed at the U.S.-Canadian border after an agreement by the U.S. and Canadian governments. Cross-border traffic is to be restricted to essential travel only, which includes medical and first aid personnel, U.S. citizens and permanent residents seeking to return home, individuals travelling for medical reasons or to attend educational institutions, and people traveling to work in the U.S. Lawful cross-border trade will continue, and diplomats, members of the military, and individuals traveling on official government business will also be allowed to cross.

Senator Schumer and Congressman Higgins’ letter can be found below:

Dear Acting Secretary Wolf,

We write to urge that all Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers that are currently working during the continued pandemic be treated as the front-line professionals that they are and be designated as employees working under hazard. Such a designation would allow these employees to receive hazard pay and further financially insulate themselves in the event that they or their families are exposed to infection as a result of their service to the United States of America.

Congress has determined that hazard pay may be awarded at the discretion of the agency if :

(1) The actual circumstances of the specific hazard or physical hardship have changed from that taken into account and described in the position description; and

(2) Using the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are described in the position description, the employee cannot control the hazard or physical hardship; thus, the risk is not reduced to a less than significant level (5 CFR § 550.904). We believe this current crisis meets both criteria.

The presence of Covid-19 and the increased risk of infection to CBP personnel should, at the very least, entitle them to an increase in pay until the crisis has abated. While facilitating trade and travel, there is risk inherent in constantly interacting with the public. However, the nature of this pandemic creates conditions that could not have been accounted for. Although the recent announcement of the mutual agreement between the United States and Canada to close the northern border to all non-essential travel is a step in the right direction, the resulting cross-border traffic still poses a risk. It is commercial traffic which has traveled extensively, essential medical and first-aid personnel, and traveling Americans seeking to re-enter through Canada. Additionally, the closeness required to screen individuals crossing the border to ensure fulfillment of their mission further exposes the men and women charged with America’s safety.

We ask that you take any and all steps necessary to ensure that hazard pay is granted to Customs and Border Protection officers as soon as possible and for the duration of the crisis. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us or our respective staffs if there is anything Congress can do to make this necessary step a reality.

Sincerely,

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