UE150 Continues Statewide ‘SAFE JOBS SAVE LIVES’ campaign amid COVID-19

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By Darrion Smith, Vice President, UE Eastern Region

Union holds press conference at Governor’s State Capital office building

On March 10, 2020 our Governor Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for the state of North Carolina. On March 15, 2020 myself along with two other union members (Nathanette Mayo and Angaza Laughinghouse) were representatives of our union UE local 150 NCPSWU and held a statewide news conference covered by all the major tv stations. We introduced our UE local 150 demands to Governor Cooper on what workers needed to safely navigate through this crisis including expanded unemployment insurance, expansion of Medicaid, universal paid sick days, PPE and hazard pay for essential workers and other demands.

Union begins meet-n-confer with DHHS Deputy Secretary Kinsley

This brought on a series of meetings between our UE local 150 DHHS Council and DHHS Deputy Secretary Kody Kinsley. During these meetings we went over our letter of demands and this henceforth started gradual positive changes for workers in DHHS policy. This also put some serious pressure on the NC Government as a whole to make some serious changes to keep ALL workers safe during this pandemic.

Management shows complete disrespect for our voices and safety

I am a Therapeutic Support Specialist in Central Regional Hospital in Butner, NC. We are part of the NCDHHS System. My time here at Central Regional has been very stressful during the pandemic. When this pandemic first started workers were totally in the dark about what was happening and how we would move forward safely as a hospital. First of all, you have people in offices not working on the front lines making decisions about people who are on the front lines and are right in the thick of things. This is a major problem. It is easy for some one who does not have to work directly with a patient to dictate how you are to conduct yourself when they are not at risk at all. We as workers feel very disrespected and this gives us the impression that the upper management sees our lives as expendable.

Union circulates petition and sees immediate results

It is a shame that workers have to fight for Hazard pay, additional sick leave, child care and other basic human needs when you have a world wide crisis. Our union initiated petitions within DHHS facilities to demand hazard pay. We collected over 900 signatures from DHHS workers, and organized delegations to deliver those petitions with signatures to facility directors, including CRH CEO Robyn Carr on April 15. The day after we delivered our petition, management sent out a memo to all workers outlining their plan to pay workers for hazard pay. Previously there had been no plan.

The struggle continues

The sad part about this is that many workers had to miss work and stay home because these basic needs were not accounted for and suffered major financial deficit. The hospital made several mistakes such as: Not listening to one of the medical doctors as they asked the facility to test patients before they received them. This accounted for our first case of Covid-19. This caused exposure to staff and patients and also quarantined a whole unit because of not listening to your staff. This is why we as workers do not respect the decisions of upper management and are totally disgusted by their carelessness. We are expected to come to work everyday and fight this pandemic and keep our clients safe, but no one is looking out for us workers, except ourselves organized as a union. We still have not received the hazard pay on our checks (Management says that April and May will be on the May check. We will see).

With the positive patients in the facility, we have seen some new concerns. On May 1, May Day, International Workers Day, we began circulating a 2nd petition calling for testing of all staff and patients and that all staff get paid time and half hazard pay, given the exposure we all face. We collected over 170 signatures on this petition and a group of workers again delivered to the CEO on May 13 and requested a meeting with her.  

Charlotte City Workers Circulate Petition, Host Press Conference fighting for PPE staggered shifts and hazard pay

By Dominic Harris, President, Charlotte City workers chapter

At the beginning of the crisis every department was shot off PPE and the city had no answers. Their lack of response urged UE150 Charlotte city workers union into action. We called several emergency meetings to get the concerns of our members and nonmembers.

We took those concerns and developed a petition that could be signed electronically. That petition would then be sent to the emails of the mayor, city council members, and the city manager. Nearly 300 workers from Solid Waste, Aviation, Water, STS, CATS, LYNX light rail and CDOT signed the petition. We also participated in the April 3 sticker day. 

The Executive board, Nichel Dunlap, Craig Brown, Kris Barrows, and Dominic Harris all called the elected officials in Charlotte and urged them to act in favor of city employees.

The demands included: Hazard Premium Pay, Paid leave for those effected by COVID-19, alternative shifts to reduce risk of spread, PPE, to sign a resolution in support of Medicare for all among others. 

The majority of our demands were met although there were hiccups.

Then, suddenly on April 6, the Solid Waste department called an end to their alternative shift due to reasons unknown. When this happened, 4 of us showed up on the Monday that these workers were due to report to in and stood in solidarity before they clocked in and talked to every workers as they came in to work about the dangers they faced, including having over 200 workers grab the same door knob (without it being cleaned), go into same building and breath on each other possibly infecting each other. 

The next day, Tuesday we called a press conference in front of Solid Waste that was covered by all of the local TV news outlets and forced Mayor Lyles to respond. We exposed that the City is sitting on $116 million (or 16 % of their budget) in a reserve fund and claim they don’t have money to pay workers during this crisis. Eventually they ended up voting to give us 5%, which is not enough. 

The next step was and remains follow up to ensure that our members are taken care of as well as ensuring our employers do not forget that the city works because we do. We have also been following up back up with the petition signers and have collected 12 new members.

By Sarah Vukelich, Recording Secretary, Durham City chapter

Members of UE150, including Vice President Sekia Royall and Assistant Chief Steward Kevin Yancey supported and participated in the actions of Health Workers Defend NC, a group of health workers that formed to stand up to the right wing “re-open” protesters. The group of health workers came from across the state and included lab techs, CNAs, nutritional services workers, nurses, pharmacists, physicians assistants, and medical students. 

We know that the Reopen protests are funded by the corporate right (including the DeVos family and the Koch brothers), working closely with known white supremacist/white nationalist organizations. It’s the group of forces that consolidated during the rise of the Tea Party. Now they are mobilizing their base to insist on re-opening, which will be a death sentence for many immunocompromised and elderly people, for black and brown people, for poor people, and for frontline workers. Across the country, these protesters have been getting millions of dollars worth of media attention–an impact wildly disproportionate to their numbers. In North Carolina, health workers decided to interrupt that. They decided to stand up for millions across the state who can’t come out into the streets to protest. Representing their patients, their co-workers hard at work in hospitals, and those who can’t take on the risk of counter-protesting, they stood stoically against the protesters, in formation six feet apart and wearing PPE in front of the State Legislature building in downtown Raleigh. They told their stories to the media. They are still reaching out across the state through their facebook group. Members of UE150 helped launch the facebook group and showed up to the front lines in Raleigh. In the second week, the health care workers began to speak about not only the importance of sticking to the governor’s plan about re-opening, but also about the importance of expanding social services on the state and federal level (for example, Medicare for All) so that people can stay home without facing a crisis. Here are just a couple of examples of press coverage for the first week and the second week.

Durham City Workers’ Union report:

The Durham City Workers Chapter circulated a petition early in the COVID-19 crisis and delivered a letter to the City Manager (same letter as the other municipal chapters, plus a demand that part-time workers be included in the COVID leave plan). Members from two departments, Fleet Maintenance and Cemeteries, participated in the statewide sticker-up day by wearing stickers on the job demanding “Safe Jobs Save Lives”. After delivering the letter, the City did move to skeleton crews, keeping workers in separate trucks and offering access to PPE and cleaning supplies. In some departments we are still having problems with insufficient PPE, workers being expected to do non-essential work like installing meters, cars not being aired out before fleet maintenance workers get into them. Now, the City is amending the COVID leave policy. Emergency leave is no longer available, even though we are not through this crisis yet. Additionally, folks who are not essential workers, have not been offered a work-from-home situation, or have elected to take time off to care for children or other family members, are coming up on the end of their 5 week leave, and the City is not going to be extending it. Workers argue that for parents with children who are still out of daycare for an indefinite period of time there should be emergency leave aside from what was already given. Workers are concerned that the City will loosen restrictions and put multiple people in work trucks again. Though it hasn’t happened yet, we are on our guard. 

Video: Goldsboro city workers seeking better pay, on-the-job protections during coronavirus outbreak

https://www.wral.com/coronavirus/goldsboro-city-workers-seeking-better-pay-on-the-job-protections-during-coronavirus-outbreak/19095712/

Goldsboro protesters concerned for city workers, Neuse Correctional inmates

https://www.witn.com/content/news/Goldsboro-protesters-concerned-for-city-workers-Neuse-Correctional-inmates-570423851.html

Cherry Hospital Workers Speak-out

By William Young, President of Cherry/ O’Berry chapter 

I currently work as an Inventory Assistant in Nutritional Services. Since the beginning of the statewide emergency, workers at Cherry Hospital were not clear on many issues. People were not sure if they would get an occurrence for calling out sick. It was then cleared up that you would not get an occurrence and that they would rather stay home if you were sick. Many workers were still concerned about workers being around other workers who may not have the signs of the virus but may have it. So they brought in a health administrator to talk on this issue.

One of the main issues is about hazard pay. Many feel as I do; that we should get paid just for having to come to work not knowing what to expect. The housekeeping staff are all over the hospital and have to do everything from removing linen to cleaning patient room. How are they to know on a daily basis who may have been exposed? The healthcare techs are having to cover more patients than they can handle because of call outs and short of staff.

When we found out about the first case, which was a staff member, many were expecting hazard pay then. It was explained later that it had to be a patient. Now they have come up with whether you were exposed to an infected patient by being six feet from them for ten minutes. One of the techs call me after we got our first case by a patient. She said that she was exposed to the patient but administration got on the cameras and told her that she wasn’t near the patient and not for the ten minutes. They ended up sending her home but it was only for about four days. She should have been send home for fourteen days with pay. Many workers are really upset about the amount of hazard pay that we are receiving. One worker even sent the CEO, Dale Armstrong an email stating how we have to come to work in these conditions and this is all we get. She goes on to say that he can keep his time and a quarter and his time and a half. The next day it was taken down.

The last thing is about the PPE. We have been pretty good on PPE except for mask. They did give everybody a cloth mask and since have given us a total of five that we have to wear until we rotate them all five times.

UE150 is excited to be a part of the newly launched North Carolina Medicare for All Coalition. Check out they’re website to learn more about them.  Let’s keep up the fight for truly affordable, accessible and quality healthcare for all people!   

There are currently around 25 groups from across the state involved with the coalition. As a coalition we engage in education, advocacy, and direct action to encourage North Carolinians and their elected representatives to support the actualization of a national single-payer universal healthcare system. In alignment with our organization’s goals to achieve health for all, we are a part of this coalition because working towards this transformative policy change would strongly impact other areas of our work, and will make some of our existing work more powerful through alignment and relationship with other groups

You can learn more about the mission for the coalition, on the coalition’s website here https://www.ncm4a.com/ and also please follow and share on social media here: facebook, instagram, twitter.

Our current pandemic amplifies the long overdue need to transform our healthcare system, and therefore the first strategic campaign that the coalition is working on is raising awareness about the Emergency Healthcare Act and urging our elected officials to support the passage of this legislation. This legislation would immediately cover the growing ranks of medically uninsured persons due to the COVID-19 pandemic under a Medicare for All type plan. Part of that pressure campaign involves signing a letter with a list of demands. We’ve signed on as an organization, but we need as many individual signatures as possible. You can sign on to the letter here and share with your networks.

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