UE150 demands for Corona Virus worker safety and well-being

Mar 14, 2020

On Monday, March 16, leaders of the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, UE local 150, representing over 5,400 public worker members in Department of Health and Human Services, UNC System, local municipalities and other public facilities across the state, plan to deliver their demands for health and safety to Governor Cooper regarding the COVID-19 global pandemic.

See below letter addressed to Governor Cooper.

Greetings Governor Cooper,

We appreciate you taking the timely measures on March 10 to declare a State of Emergency to respond to Corona Virus (COVID-19). We also appreciate the recommendations from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the number of people infected. Public service workers, particularly health care workers, are some of the most impacted by this global pandemic. 

As the coronavirus spreads in the United States, nurses across the country have said they don’t have enough resources to protect themselves from getting sick and hospitals are unprepared to treat patients who are infected. We hope that this emergency will compel the State, DHHS, UNC System and all management at the facility level to take seriously our calls for open communication via meet-n-confer with UE150 local committee, continuous training in infectious disease protocols and personal protective equipment (PPE) to keep us all safe at work and in turn our wider communities.

We are highly concerned about the leadership at the federal level, in particular the recent discussions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding weakening their guidance for health care workers, including recommending surgical masks — which public health experts say don’t protect against infection—instead of respirators for health care workers providing care to patients with COVID-19.

Outside of the health care field, far too many workers without unions do not have paid time off work or child care. Because of this pandemic, we as a nation are now acutely aware that when workers do not have paid sick time, they often are forced to make a dangerous choice between coming to work sick and putting food on the table for their kids versus staying at home and losing pay or even their job. That is a choice that no one should have to face. As this crisis progresses, government and industry must work together to support public health by providing a minimum 14-day paid sick bank for every worker impacted by the pandemic. We hope this emergency will also increase your support for calling for universal paid sick leave for all workers. 

Without free child care facilities, we risk children staying home with their grand parents while their parents work, while also knowing that the elderly are the most vulnerable to this virus. 

We call on officials from relevant agencies to enact the following commonsense policy responses to this emergency:

  • Establish a minimum 14-day sick day bank for every worker impacted by the pandemic (that does not draw from earned sick and vacation time), eventually leading towards a universal paid sick leave law. 
  • Personal Protective Equipment should be readily available for anyone tasked with treating potentially infected populations, including N95 masks, gowns and gloves. 
  • Establish free child care facilities for all state and local government employees. 
  • No worker should be punished or given an “occurrence” for calling in sick.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) must issue an emergency temporary standard to ensure the immediate protection of workers in health care workplaces and other high-risk workplaces identified by the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Employers need to staff up and disinfect our workplaces, especially heavily-used areas where the virus can most easily be spread. In state facilities with infected people or patients there needs to be custodial staff 24 hours a day and over the week-ends.
  • Clear written policies and staff training in DHHS and UNC system hospitals that maximize quarantining of infected patients. 
  • Workers forced to stay at work under quarantine and cover patients infected with COVID-19 should be compensated double time hazard pay.
  • Those who are affected by the virus while receiving unemployment benefits should be exempt from the requirement to search for work. The state needs to increase the current rates of unemployment compensation after cut backs in recent years. 
  • Ensure that working people understand that if they are injured or infected as a result of their work, they are entitled to worker’s compensation benefits.
  • All people should have access to free COVID-19 testing and no person should have to incur any cost whatsoever, whether in the form of copays, deductibles, or out-of-pocket costs, related to treatment for COVID-19. Costs should not be a barrier to testing and treatment.
  • Coronavirus related time off should not count against a worker’s Family and Medical Leave Act benefits.
  • Public endorsement of universal single-payer health insurance, the federal Medicare for All Act of 2019 (HR 1384). 

These are only a few commonsense measures that must be put immediately into place. Union members have long-benefited from strong Collective Bargaining Agreements, which provide for specific provisions around sick time, safety, and whistleblower protections. Now, as we face an ever-growing pandemic, it is important that these workplace protections are expanded to all North Carolina workers.

It is up to us individually and collectively to take responsibility to end this epidemic. This means that workers should stay home when sick, companies shouldn’t punish workers who do stay home sick, and industry and government must create the funds necessary to ensure that workers continue to receive pay checks. We in the North Carolina labor movement stand ready to do our part and more.

Yours for quality services and quality jobs,

Executive Board of the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, UE Local 150

Bryce Carter, President

Sekia Royall, Vice President

Jim Wrenn, Financial Secretary

Aubrey Lauersdorf, Recording Secretary

Raymond Sanders, Chief Steward

Patrice Jacobs, DHHS Council Chair

Nathanette Mayo, Municipal Council Chair