By TIM ROWDEN
SEIU Healthcare, Missouri’s largest health care workers union, has unveiled a slate of policy reforms aimed at addressing issues highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. They include boosting the minimum wage to $15 an hour and expanding legal protections for workers who report safety concerns.
“These policies will have life-saving benefits for every health care worker in our state,” said Ashley Mosley, a cook at Crestwood Health Care Center in Florissant and a member of SEIU Healthcare.
SEIU Healthcare Missouri represents more than 4,000 hospital and nursing home workers across the state.
Lenny Jones, state director and vice president of SEIU Healthcare Missouri, said the proposed reforms are a response to workers’ yearlong fight on the frontlines of the pandemic, in which many have been infected and killed by COVID-19.
Workers – most of them Black and non-white from disadvantaged neighborhoods – have protested inadequate personal protective equipment, hazard pay and sick leave, Jones said. They are also calling for a boost in public transportation and education to support workers.
Jones said boosting pay and public welfare would improve care by boosting staffing and eliminating the need for health care employees to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet.
“To pass these bills and implement these policies, we need the support of elected leaders and all levels of government,” Jones said.
A PLAN TO MOVE FORWARD
The union is calling for:
- A statewide minimum wage of $15 an hour by 2025.
- Creation of COVID-19 safety ombudsmen, or advocates specifically promoting training and protections designed to cut risks of exposure to the coronavirus.
- Local panels comprised of hospital and nursing home workers and managers to negotiate safety and health standards.
- Whistleblower protections for workers who report COVID-19 safety violations or concerns.
- Increased transportation, housing, education and childcare assistance for health care workers.
- Amendment of Missouri statutes to provide emergency powers to home rule cities.
- Passage of worker safety committee legislation (HB 1103) and safe staffing legislation.
Healthcare workers were joined in an online press conference Thursday, Feb. 25 by local Democratic officials including St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who SEIU endorsed in the city’s mayoral election, plus Missouri State Rep. Tracy McCreery (D-Olivette) and St. Louis Alderwoman Sarah Wood Martin, a Democrat representing the city’s 11th Ward.
All three expressed support for the union’s legislative and policy demands.
‘THEY NEED AND DESERVE OUR SUPPORT’
Treasurer Jones cited the “courage of workers in the face of terrible conditions,” saying “They need and deserve our support,” not only for challenges posted by COVID-19, but also “to right the inequities that have long plagued our health care systems.”
“I lost my last living uncle to Covid in November and he was a nursing home resident,” Jones said. “We cannot just talk about what needs to happen, now is the time for action and the implementation of this plan.”
HAPHAZARD, INSUFFICIENT STATE RESPONSE
Rep. McCreery, who chairs the House Life Sciences Subcommittee and the Oversight Committee of Missouri Healthnet, expressed concern about Missouri’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which she described as haphazard, uncoordinated and insufficient.
“I’m also really concerned with how we treat our healthcare workers,” McCreery said. “They are underpaid and forced to take enormous risks just to do their jobs, and it’s not right.
“The legislature can no longer wait. We must take action.”
TIME TO ACT
Alderwoman Martin, a member of the Health Committee at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, said it is time for policy makers to act.
“I’m extremely concerned about the toll that COVID-19 is taking on our community and our workforce,” Martin said. “Our healthcare and workplace safety issues have been exacerbated during this pandemic. Low income communities and communities of color are suffering disproportionately and it’s not right. Every Covid death is a hole in someone’s heart and a place left empty at the dinner table.
“When we talk about SEIU Healthcare workers we are talking about people who take care of our most vulnerable, like our grandparents.
“As policy makers, it is time to act.”