SEIU Healthcare workers rally for hazard pay, protection at Touchette Regional Hospital

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RONALD MILES, (left) a behavioral health therapist at Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville, Ill. says union members come to work each day knowing they could encounter the COVID-19 virus and take it home to their families. Sherry Jackson (right), an SEIU Healthcare member from Addus Homecare in St. Louis, turned out to support fellow union members at Touchette in their demands. – Labor Tribune photo

Centreville, IL – Working with hospital patients throughout a pandemic, Ronald Miles, a behavioral health therapist and essential worker at Touchette Regional Hospital, says “I put my family at risk and myself at risk on a daily basis coming in to work.”

Miles and fellow members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Missouri rallied at the hospital May 27 to demand hazard pay, protective equipment, testing and paid time-off should they become infected or need to self-isolate.

Touchette has collected over one million dollars from the CARES Act and workers are asking why those taxpayer funds have not been funneled to better support those battling COVID-19 on the frontlines.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, unionized hospital workers have raised concerns through petitions delivered to administrators, actions outside of their hospitals at shift change, and the public with demands for proper PPE and hazard pay across the region. Lauded as “heroes” in hospital videos and statements, workers say the praise is appreciated but does nothing to address the very real risks they and their families are taking each day.

SEIU HEALTHCARE MEMBERS rallied outside Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville, Ill., last week to demand hazard pay, protective equipment, testing and paid time-off. Delivering the message were (from left) Union Representative Paula Jones, St. Louis University Hospital Care Partner Caprice Nevils, Addus Homecare, St. Louis, employee Sherry Jackson, Shunda Whitfield of Estate of Spanish Lake Nursing and Rehabilitation employee Shunda Whitfield, and Touchette Behavioral Health Therapist Ronald Miles. – Labor Tribune photo

‘HERE TO HELP’
“All we ask is to be compensated,” Miles said. “We show up to work without any questions. We’ve asked on a continuous basis since the pandemic began if we could get hazardous pay. We’ve been denied on several occasions.

“Every time I show up to work, I feel like I’m committing suicide or playing Russian roulette,” Miles said. “I don’t want to play this game, but I feel obligated to do so. And I’m going to continue to do so – because I’m here to help.”

COME TO WORK NOT KNOWING
Sherry Jackson, who works for Addus Homecare in St. Louis, said the entire field of healthcare is suffering from the pressure of the pandemic. Some compensation for the Touchette workers would not be unusual, she said, and would be entirely justified.

“Everybody who works in the healthcare field puts their lives on the front line,” she said. “We come to work every day, not knowing if we’re going to take something home to our families or loved ones.”

NOT UNPRECEDENTED
SEIU Healthcare represents 165 workers at Touchette, many earning $10.25 an hour. At least two have tested positive for COVID-19, the union said.

St. Louis University Hospital, where 640 workers are members of SEIU Healthcare, has already provided each worker with 80 hours of additional paid sick leave.


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