SEIU Nursing Home Workers Speak Out for Protections from COVID-19

Caregivers working at ground zero of the pandemic fight to protect workers and residents

There is much debate as to the trajectory of the current COVID-19 pandemic, but there is no doubt as to where the coronavirus has continued to impact a staggering number of lives- America’s nursing homes.

SEIU members working at nursing homes across the country are on the very front lines of this crisis, and have been using the power of their union to fight for the safety of both those they care for and caregivers who risk their lives every day.

From demanding action on PPE and supplies from the Trump administration, to holding local actions outside nursing homes and sharing their stories in the media and before members of Congress, SEU nursing home workers have risen to the challenge of demanding better care for seniors and people with disabilities and safer working conditions. 

Much of the planning for the nursing home worker’s fight-back began at a tele-townhall moderated by SEIU nursing home CNA Sharonda Stokes from Chicago. Hundreds of nursing home workers from across the country shared their experiences and came up with a plan of action as the pandemic continued to explode in their facilities.  “Together, we can put into motion the immediate and the long term changes that will transform this work we are committed to and the care we are proud to provide,” said Stokes during the call.

In a May 27 feature in Time Magazine, Local 1199 New England member and CNA from Connecticut Tanya Beckford told her story of not having the proper PPE at the nursing home where she worked, and her subsequently testing positive for COVID-19. “The worst thing that I get upset about is hearing the word hero, hero, hero being thrown around for us. And no one is treating us as such. We feel disrespected,” said Beckford.  “I would love to see them give us the proper PPE that we need, give us some kind of compensation, and for goodness sake, I don’t have any more vacation or sick time now, and the year is just beginning.”

Tanya is one of many brave nursing home workers who have stepped forward and shed light on their working conditions in the media.  Other SEIU members have brought their concerns before the House of Representatives. SEIU nursing home member Chris Brown from Chicago urged members of Congress to address the health crisis in our nation’s nursing homes during a briefing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. 

On the briefing call, the Chicago nursing home worker joined other healthcare experts and affected Americans to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on nursing home residents and workers.

During his testimony, Brown shared the challenges he and other CNAs face in doing their jobs without access to proper personal protective equipment, essential pay and sick leave. “Now with COVID-19, short staffing also means we’re coming into contact with more residents. Even when our facility created a specific floor for residents who are infected with COVID-19, short staffing means nursing home workers are being spread thin,” he said adding that Congress needs to invest in nursing home workers and residents and address short staffing.

 “It’s both heavy emotional and physical labor, but it’d be easier to find people to do this work if they are paid what they're worth. If we value this work, our residents can live with dignity and comfort,” said Brown.

A recent survey of nursing home workers released by SEIU showed that nearly 80 percent of nursing home workers believe they are risking their lives by going to work every day.  “It’s heartbreaking and infuriating that nursing home workers fear for their lives as they work tirelessly to care for seniors, people with disabilities and veterans,” said SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry. “Essential workers should be treated as essential — with PPE, paid leave and pandemic pay.”

As the pandemic continues, SEIU nursing home workers know that it is their moment to speak out together, share their stories and call for the changes they need from both employers and elected officials at every level to protect residents and protect themselves. They know that together through their union, they can change the work they do from today onward.  

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