April 28, 2020
Union unveils online Memorial to member Lives Lost on Coronavirus Pandemic Frontlines
Health Professionals and Allied Employees today pay somber homage to four members who have died in the COVID-19 pandemic. Union members and allies across the state and the nation showed solidarity in calling out national leaders and employers to respect and protect workers in the crucible of the still raging Coronavirus outbreak.
Healthcare workers posted images of themselves, with messages created on home-made signs, detailing their concerns in their work environments. The union then shared many of the posts on the HPAE social media platforms. The workers’ messages include “Do Your Job OSHA” and “If It’s not Sealed, It’s Not Safe” and hashtags such as #WeRNotDisposable, #HealthCareHeroes, #PPENow, and #NJThankYou to decry inadequate or defective personal protective equipment that they been issued.
“We must respect the memories of the heroes we have lost and provide these brave workers, who risk their lives daily, with the resources they need on the frontlines to care for these patients.” HPAE President Debbie White, RN, said.
With the numbers of the stricken rising fast and grossly undercounted, more than 16,000 U.S. health care workers have now been infected with the novel Coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates. Union activists believe this gruesome tally would be far lower if the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was allowed to fully protect workers on the frontlines of the pandemic.
“OSHA was created 50 years ago today to ensure safe and healthy conditions on the job for America’s working men and women,” White said. “It’s a disgrace that, 50 years later, Congress has still not mandated that OSHA promulgate a standard that comprehensively addresses an employer’s responsibility to protect workers from infectious disease.”
“Today is Workers Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for workers killed or injured on the job,” she said. “So, it is tragic that today, healthcare workers in hospitals and nursing homes are dying from COVID-19 as they did in 1918 during the Spanish Flu. OSHA is the enforcement agency for worker protection and we are in desperate need of the intervention.”
Today, HPAE has filed OSHA complaints about working conditions that pose immediate danger to life and health of more than a thousand HPAE members at Locals 5030 and 5097 at the Hackensack Meridian Health System’s Palisades Medical Center and at the long term care facility attached to Palisades called The Harborage.
Additionally, HPAE plans to file OSHA complaints about working conditions for Local 5629 staff at the Sunrise House, an inpatient detox and rehab facility for individuals with substance abuse issues in Lafayette, NJ.
The complaints are part of a nationwide “Do Your Job OSHA” (#DOYOURJOBOSHA ) campaign. Besides dozens of OSHA complaint filings across the country, the campaign has launched a petition demanding that OSHA be allowed to issue an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) to protect workers from the COVID-19 pandemic and future infectious agents.
The petition will support the passage of H.R. 6559, the COVID-19 Every Worker Protection Act of 2020, a bill introduced by Rep. Robert C. Scott (D-Va.). That bill would: Force OSHA to issue an ETS within seven days; mandate government tracking and investigation of work-related COVID-19 infections; and forbid retaliation against nurses and healthcare professionals for reporting infection-control problems or using non-employer-issued PPE when an adequate employer supply is not available.
“We can’t even think about opening the economy until this issue is addressed,” White said. “It affects all of us. When healthcare workers are not protected, they will be exposed to the virus and can, too, become infected. Our members are terrified every day of bringing this illness home to their families. And our healthcare workers aren’t isolated from our communities. This pandemic will continue to spread unless we protect them, starting now.”
For more information, please contact: Bridget Devane, Public Policy Director, 732-996-5493