(AP) – Pennsylvania will stop paying about 9,000 state workers whose offices have been closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, officials said Friday, as the state recorded another single-day high in new cases and passed 100 deaths.
Paid leave for state employees whose work locations are closed and who are unable to work remotely will end April 10, according to Gov. Tom Wolf’s office.
The pay freeze affects about 12% of the state workforce, though individual agencies were hit much harder, with the state departments of Transportation and Revenue halting pay to more than half their employees. The state will continue to provide health and life insurance benefits.
“This was a difficult decision as our commonwealth faces significant fiscal challenges,” Wolf’s office said in a statement. “The governor chose an alternative to furloughs so each affected employee will keep their health care benefits and has the flexibility to choose from a range of leave options that is best for them.”
State workers can use paid vacation days, sick leave or compensatory time to continue to receive a paycheck. Otherwise they will be eligible to apply for unemployment, officials said.
Wolf first ordered offices closed for nonessential state employees in mid-March, and that order lasts through at least April 30.
David Fillman, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 13, which represents most of the employees whose paychecks will stop, said many of the employees have clerical duties. Affected employees will have a week to decide how to handle it, he said.
“Right now, it’s the ability of the employee to make that decision on their own based on their own family situation,” Fillman said. “Hopefully, it will be short-lived and then we’ll move on.”
AFSCME members can accrue up to 300 sick days under the contract and 45 days of vacation time, and can use this year’s sick days as well.
About 5,700 of the affected workers are employed by PennDOT. About 900 work for the Department of Labor & Industry, about 850 work for Revenue, and the remainder are scattered across other agencies.
The frozen Labor & Industry positions are not associated with the state’s unemployment compensation program, which has been overwhelmed by hundreds of thousands of claims, officials said.
In Westmoreland County, Commissioner Sean Kertes told news organizations that nearly 500 county employees will be furloughed after Friday, with benefits.
In other coronavirus developments Friday:
MEEK MILL’S MASKS
Philadelphia-based rapper Meek Mill’s criminal justice reform group is donating 100,000 face masks to some of the nation’s most notorious jails and prisons.
The celebrity-backed REFORM Alliance announced the donation Friday. It said 50,000 masks will go to the Rikers Island jail complex in New York City, 40,000 will be sent to the Tennessee Department of Correction, and 5,000 are headed to the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman.
The group, whose founding members include Jay-Z, has been pressing the nation’s jails and prisons to thin their inmate populations, improve sanitation, protect prison workers and take other precautions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Hundreds of inmates and staff at U.S. correctional facilities have tested positive for the virus. Health experts say people inside prisons and jails are at heightened risk because of tight inmate quarters, a lack of sanitation and substandard medical care.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported more than 1,400 additional people tested positive for the virus, bringing the total number to over 8,420. There were 12 new deaths for a statewide toll of 102.
For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.
Boeing is suspending production at its helicopter plant outside Philadelphia but will continue to pay workers.
Boeing said the shutdown will begin Friday afternoon and last until April 20. The company said it will deep-clean buildings at the site in Ridley Township, Delaware County, and come up with a plan to safeguard workers from the virus.
Employees who cannot work from home will be paid for the next two weeks, the company said.
Boeing, which employs about 4,500 at the plant, produces military helicopters there including the H-47 Chinook and V-22 Osprey.
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