June 20, 2021
The 40th annual Local 100 leadership conference was held on Zoom for the second year. The one area where the delegates were unanimous was in their resolve to never have another conference on Zoom, but to meet in person next year in Houston or just about anywhere.
Past the reports on the year’s activity and upcoming bargaining, the main subject was reviewing the new OSHA standards for healthcare facilities. Local 100 has members that work in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities for the differently able who, along with hospital workers, are among the 10% of American workers that OSHA designed the rules to protect.
We had two objectives in this discussion. One was preparing the leadership to bargain with employers on how to implement the new rules. The other was to prepare other leaders in units not specifically covered by these new regulations to demand similar coverage from their employers.
The rules themselves finally put some teeth around work safety that OSHA ignored throughout the 2020 stage of the pandemic. Now, PPE is mandatory. Paid time off to get vaccinations is required. Paid time for positive Covid-19 quarantine is included. Isolation or remote work for workers and social distancing are all part of the package. We also believe that the same opportunity exists to negotiate incentives for testing and vaccinations for our workers.
The harder issue may be getting consensus from our members on vaccinations. The rate in our Head Start facilities is below 40% from the reports. One of our nursing homes has gotten to 90% vaccination rates, but others are lagging at less than 50% for the workers, even as the clients’ rates have now passed 80%.
Nursing homes have been a flashpoint in the pandemic for death and disease. We warned our leaders that employers can make vaccinations mandatory, so we needed to get to the table with management and try to negotiate a program of incentives along with buying time over the summer to try to get as many of our members the shots as we can, before the hammer comes down.
The leaders were vocal and articulate in arguing that workers needed to get the vaccines. One steward had been laid low by the virus, was out of work for five weeks, and was still feeling in the effects. They all believed vaccinations should be mandatory in schools, Head Start, and healthcare. In short, the leaders were there 100%, but the numbers don’t lie, and the workers were voting with their feet at half or less that rate. The challenge was clear, but the question was equally plain. Could the leaders actually lead, cajole, and persuade their co-workers to get the shots finally for their own safety, their clients’ safety, and the community’s? Furthermore, could they make it happen before managers made it mandatory and their co-workers lost their jobs?
After the session, we found that the United Kingdom has mandated vaccines for nursing home workers. It’s coming. Hopefully, this leadership conference got us ahead of the train, but the whistle is blowing, and it’ll be a race to the station.