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Hempstead union leader calls for town hall shutdown

Hempstead Town Hall was closed Monday, but may

Hempstead Town Hall was closed Monday, but may reopen Tuesday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The leader of Hempstead's thousands of unionized workers called on the town Monday to shut down inessential operations for the next two weeks after a town employee tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Theresa Kohutka, president of the Civil Service Employees Association Local 880, said she's made multiple appeals to Hempstead officials in recent days after being inundated with concerns from some of the town's 2,000 unionized employees about the risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus on the job. She said, for example, she's received reports that multiple town departments have run out of hand sanitizer.

"It's just chaos, and people are worried," she said. "They don't want to bring it home."

Hempstead closed its town hall complex on Sunday and Monday for a deep clean after receiving word from Nassau County that a town employee had tested positive for the virus. 

In response to the growing pandemic, the town announced in a news release Monday afternoon it had declared a state of emergency, as other local governments have done, and planned to reopen town hall on Tuesday with reduced staff and public hours. The facility will now be open to the public Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., but town staffers will keep regular hours.

“While many town employees will be working from home, town hall will maintain essential staff to keep government running while also practicing social distancing in its work spaces of six feet or more," Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin wrote in a statement.

In an interview Monday, Clavin said Hempstead is also exploring staggering employees' shifts and is asking residents to conduct their town business online or over the phone, if possible.

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While the reduction in public access to town hall falls short of the union's request, Clavin sought to stress the importance of staffers' well-being amid the outbreak in a letter to employees on Sunday.

"I want you, my fellow co-workers in America's largest township, to know that your health and safety is very important to me and my administration," Clavin wrote.

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