OGDEN — Ogden-area Internal Revenue Service offices will scale back operations to essential service offerings and send some workers home for at least the next two weeks to guard against the spread of coronavirus.
“This is the right move. This is a good move,” said Robert Lawrence, head of the union representing many of the 5,000 or so area IRS workers, Chapter 67 of the National Treasury Employees Union.
Per the change, which went into effect Monday, non-essential workers who had still been reporting to work to IRS offices will stay off the job at least until April 20, according to a post on the local chapter’s Facebook page. Some workers, though, will aid in the “ramp down” of IRS operations in the next few days, Lawrence said, “to make sure everything’s neat and tidy when they come back.”
As the largest Weber County employer, the IRS decision is notable, with implications beyond just the impacted IRS workers to their family members and others who have contact with them. There had been rumblings among some local employees since last month about the safety of showing up for work given the spread of coronavirus. Indeed, in a Politico story on April 2, Sunita Lough, an IRS deputy commissioner, said all IRS service centers except Ogden’s had closed, making this the last major IRS operational outpost to scale back operations.
“We were kind of the last ones to do it,” said Lawrence, who nevertheless knows of no confirmed COVID-19 cases among local IRS employees. Figuring in the relatively late shift, the coronavirus case count in Utah lagged other states with a major IRS presence, he said, and there is no shelter-in-place order in the state.
In a statement to the Standard-Examiner, Tony Reardon, president of the Washington, D.C.-based NTEU, said that temporarily closing IRS facilities like Ogden’s is big in stopping the spread of coronavirus among federal workers and their families, friends and neighbors. But it doesn’t end the need for action.
“NTEU continues to urge the IRS — and all federal agencies — to take precautions to protect employees who are still required to report to their place of duty,” Reardon said. “Those precautions should include the ability to maintain appropriate distancing among employees at work, proper cleaning of working spaces and maintaining a steady supply of hand sanitizer and other disinfectant products and personal protective equipment.”
Monday’s change notwithstanding, IRS functions don’t come to a standstill. Employees deemed essential will still show up for duty, Lawrence said, and those who are able to work from home will continue to do so. Businesses tax returns, for instance, still need to be processed. At any rate, he’s not sure what share of IRS workers here will stay on the job, whether at home or in IRS facilities, and the share that will take leave, tapping safety and weather leave benefits.
‘NATIONWIDE EVACUATION ORDER’
The IRS had said on its website on March 24 that it was “curtailing some operations.” It didn’t spell out what was being done in individual locations, though.
Then last week, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig issued a “nationwide evacuation order” limiting access to IRS facilities to those who handle “mission-critical work,” according to Chad Hooper, president of the Professional Managers Association, which represents non-union IRS managers.
Monday’s move here is in line with that, and Hooper lauded the shift. Like Reardon, though, he expressed concern for those workers who will still report to IRS facilities to work, saying they need protections against coronavirus.
“IRS facilities largely lack appropriate cleaning supplies due to global shortages and IRS employees are still barred from utilizing their own cleaning supplies,” Hooper said in a statement. “We implore IRS leadership to allow employees to bring unscented cleaning supplies into their offices to clean their workspaces. When the (IRS) is unable to ensure a clean work environment for their staff, employees should be allowed to clean their area themselves without fear of repercussions.”
Some 44,000 IRS employees nationwide were working from home, with tens of thousands more to join them as the temporary IRS change took effect, according to Hooper.
The closure of IRS offices to non-essential workers until April 20 will be subject to future review, Lawrence suspects.