COLUMBUS— House Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron) issued a statement following a memorandum from Speaker of the House Larry Householder (R-Glenford) that the entire House of Representatives would be once again put under Work From Home status beginning tomorrow after a suspected COVID-19 outbreak among Republican staff was brought to light by Democratic representatives and staff and in response to public outage of the Republicans' handling of this issue.
On Tuesday, the Democratic caucus learned that a Republican House aide had tested positive for COVID-19 and a number of Republican House staff had been sent home to self-quarantine and test for the coronavirus. The Minority Caucus received no formal notification or additional details from Speaker Householder. The Chief Administrative Officer for the House has been tasked by the Speaker with contact tracing under the supervision of Majority staff, not the local Health Department nor in collaboration with the Minority caucus.
“We were only informed of this situation because a Democratic staffer was misidentified. The lack of transparency in this process is appalling.
For months, House Republicans have waged war against Dr. Amy Acton, public health officials, science, and commonsense all while hiding behind their keyboards from the safety of their own home. As Ohioans are impacted exponentially, Speaker Householder is in hiding, attacking public servants on Twitter, advising his staff in the Riffe to withhold vital information, and spreading lies about what is actually transpiring in the organization that he is responsible for leading while passing blame to anyone but himself.
The Speaker of the House has an obligation during this pandemic to provide accurate information to members and staff. People deserve to know what risks are associated with reporting to work each day and contact tracing should never be a partisan process. Our constituents need us to be healthy in order to work for them.”
In recent months, House Democrats have made numerous repeated, formal and informal requests to the Speaker to protect the health and safety of all House of Representatives staff. In a letter dated March 11, Leader Sykes called on Speaker Householder to implement the House Telework Policy as outlined in the House Administrative Reference Guide. Householder ordered the staff to Work From Home (WFH) beginning March 16.
On April 27, upon hearing the Speaker’s plans to call the staff back to the Riffe, Democratic House leadership asked the Speaker to allow staff to continue WFH, stating that it was “too soon and is likely to endanger their health and well-being.” The request was ignored and WFH ended with a limited return to the Riffe on May 4 – one of the first workplaces in the state to return following Stay at Home orders. A full return to the Riffe was ordered by the Speaker June 1.
On May 13, Leader Sykes penned a strongly-worded letter to Speaker Householder, expressing the Minority caucus’ disappointment with a memorandum his Office had issued detailing his unilateral decision to loosen safety protocols during House session that endangered the lives of members and staff.
“Wearing a mask, whether on the House floor or at a local shop or restaurant it best practice. Limiting large gatherings is best practice. These best health practices not only protect ourselves, but more importantly protect others. We owe it to everyday Ohioans to take this virus seriously by listening to the science, adhering to best health practices and putting people first. Refusing to do so is irresponsible, dangerous and beneath our moral obligation as elected officials,” Leader Sykes said in the letter.
On May 19, Assistant Minority Leader Boggs filed a formal workplace safety complaint with the Columbus Health Department and notified the Speaker of her actions. In the letter, she also detailed a list of best practices the Democratic caucus would like to see implemented immediately.
“We remain concerned with the example we are setting for our fellow Ohioans. In fact, when I spoke to the Columbus Health Department, they told me several of the employers who are being reported as violating the recommendations have pointed to the Ohio House of Representatives as their touchstone. We must do better, Mr. Speaker. People are looking to us to lead,” Rep. Boggs wrote.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A copy of the memo from Speaker Householder to all House staff reinstating WFH policy is also attached