Nursing home workers rally in Queens for ‘fair compensation’ during COVID-19 crisis

Photo by Todd Maisel

Frontline nursing home workers at 36 long term care facilities across the state held vigils and protests Thursday, expressing their grief for co-workers and patients who died during the COVID-19 pandemic and seeking “fair compensation” for the hazards they continue to face.

Members of 1199 SEIU, who work for some of the biggest for-profit nursing home networks on the East Coast, say they are still facing the threats of COVID-19 in all of their facilities.

According to union leaders, they include, short-staffing, lack of appropriate PPE, refusal by corporate employers to acknowledge the risks and sacrifices that are being made during the COVID-19 crisis, the failure to recognize the grief and loss being experienced by caregivers, and the unwillingness to provide crisis pay.

The union most specifically refers to orderlies, maintenance staff, dieticians and other house-keeping cleaning staff.

At the Holliswood Center in Hollis, union members complained about lack of compensation from their employer and a failure to recognize early on the dangers to both staff and patients.

“Some housekeeping workers never came back to work because they are too afraid,” said Eric Fogle, a union rep from SEIU and 26-year employee at Holliswood. “They don’t want to pay us extra hazard pay because they don’t consider us essential workers. But our workers come into more contact with patients than those in the medical field.”

Fogle said 20 workers in Holliswood contracted COVID-19, and one union member, a dietician, died of the contagion. He said the facilities has lost 56 patients to COVID-19, and 50 more people have tested positive for the virus.

“They only recently offered us a small amount of money, below the average for many nursing homes,” Fogle said. “You want to have workers come to work and lay their lives on the line, but you offer no extra incentive?”

He added that many workers at this and other facilities have spouses who have lost their jobs, so their compensation from their health care jobs are even more crucial.

Nursing home staff seek compensation for working in COVID-19 conditions. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Both he and fellow worker Roger Lee had COVID-19 and have since recovered from the virus.

“I got COVID-19 in here, had to fight to get the money they owed me – they didn’t want to pay me my money,” Lee said of his experience with COVID-19 and his employer. “People are scared to come to work. They don’t want to bring that home to their family, but I come to work very day.”

SEIU workers also demonstrated at the Downtown Brooklyn Nursing the Rehab Center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and at facilities in Long Island, Westchester and other parts of the state.

This story first appeared on amny.com.