Tag Archives: Local 100 United Labor Unions

Some Changes the Coronavirus Should Bring

Pearl River     In the Age of Trump and the Time of the Coronavirus, there seems to be constant speculation about what changes in our society, habits, and government might be permanent given our collective experience.  Much of this is hyperbole.  One pundit argued that he went “to sleep in America and woke up in democratic socialist Europe.”  Oh, if dreams could come true!  Let’s instead talk about lessons we should learn in this crisis, and things that should absolutely change in the wake of this crisis.

The Affordable Care Act is now ten years old, celebrating its anniversary during the lockdown.  No matter Trump’s rhetoric and Mitch McConnell’s Senate Republican caucus, can anyone make the case that the private health insurance and the patchwork quilt of state health coverage is adequate for our people?  The elimination of mandatory coverage left our hospital network damaged, albeit their greedy pricing of their services, drugs, and the like are major players as well, forced mergers and left us with too many sick and not enough beds, equipment, and personnel.  Millions in states across the country are facing this crisis without any insurance.  That has to change.

How could we not learn that the internet has to become a public utility?  How could we not realize that we finally have to take this matter out of the hands of the telecoms and the pattycake FCC voluntary programs and eliminate the digital divide, here and around the world?  How can all the ideologues who want to argue that education is the answer, despite the facts, maintain their position as the country from elementary to college is pushed into on-line learning, leaving lower income families even farther behind?   Put this near the top of the list.

Living wages, paid sick leave, real unemployment benefits, the play pretend that gig workers are not employees, are all things that we have once again been taught have to be part of the safety net for everyone, especially lower waged workers and their families.   The failure of government in this crisis has to end the argument that somehow the private sector and the magic of market forces are somehow going provide for families.  They never have, and they never will.  That’s why we need a government, it’s time to make them do the job.

I didn’t put this on the top of the list, but our union represents home care workers, nursing home workers, developmentally disabled workers, and the government and society has depended on them for care as much as they do hospital workers, yet they are severely underpaid and under resourced.  Good health care is a top to bottom priority, and we have to guarantee our people that they will be provided for when in care, and when giving care.

Yes, people will finally learn to wash their hands better, but the virus ought to bring forward a host of changes that we desperately need and can no longer ignore.  The temptation by policy makers will be to fight the last war, rather than the next, by putting more respirators and masks into production.  Many of us will include different items in our “run for it” bags and storage closets for sure.  But we need to learn from this that there are fundamental changes that we have to make in protection and provision for our people, and we need to do it now.


Frontline Care Workers Are Undervalued

New Orleans       In the “time of the virus,” I talked to Jackie Dartz, a member of the Local 100 United Labor Unions executive board and longtime steward at LARC, the Lafayette Association of Retarded Citizens, about direct care workers that were at the frontlines about their preparations for the covid-19 pandemic on Wade’s World I wanted to know if there was anything special they were doing to prepare, and how they would handle this situation.  Jackie has worked at LARC for thirty-six years where she is both a van driver and a direct care worker and instructor for various clients.

At one level she was reassuring about the preparations for this very vulnerable population.  She said they were always attentive to hygiene and the possibilities of viral infections with this susceptible population.  Individual care workers who support clients in independent living conditions are required to also be hyper vigilant.

Is it enough?  Well, that was a harder question, because on the frontlines of direct care, no one really knows in a unique situation like this one, what would constitute enough.

Were there special instructions they were getting from their employer and supervisors?  Certainly, she said that everyone was aware of these issues and had doubled down on the usual procedures, but at the point we talked there were no cases in the Lafayette area, so in many ways both workers and bosses were crossing their fingers.

We had been bargaining a renewal of the union contract earlier in that week.  We knew its benefits and its limits.  We had an extended argument about wage freezes that the nonprofit was proposing for another year of the contract, because their reimbursement rate had not improved.  One member of the committee had given an impassioned plea to management about how hard the work was, how critical to the clients, and how undervalued workers were when they looked at their wages.

They aren’t alone.  We represent nursing home workers in various places of the state, especially north Louisiana in Shreveport.  We reached out for them in recent weeks to review health and safety procedures.  In nursing homes, wages have risen as labor supply has tightened.  Certification is required.  Home residents are thus far the most vulnerable population because of general age and health.  Not enough is being done, though everyone was willing to meet and talk.

None of our contracts include stipulations for either hazard pay if workers are deemed essential and have to report to work or robust enough paid leave time if workers are forced to quarantine.  Most care workers are also in the gap of health care coverage.  Because their employers are large enough they have to offer health insurance, but the deductibles and monthly rates are exorbitant, meaning that often no one buys the program, while they are also barred from the best provisions of the Affordable Care Act because of the employers’ claim of nominal insurance.

These workers are vital, but they are at risk and, relatively speaking, as our member stood up and said to the LARC team, they are “paid poverty wages.”  They are working at the sharp edge of life and death, but their own lives are purchased cheaply while they are forced to risk everything to care for others.