HPAE healthcare workers award NJ Senator Loretta Weinberg with a “Lifetime Achievement Hero of Healthcare” award for career-long support of working people
Hundreds of nurses and health professionals gathered virtually on October 6-7 to re-elect a tried and tested slate of state officers to continue leading HPAE for another three years after an unprecedented global pandemic.
Unionized healthcare workers first elected Debbie White as president at HPAE’s 2018 Convention and re-elected President White today, along with Barbara Rosen as First Vice-President and Alexis Rean-Walker as Secretary-Treasurer.
“Over the next three years, HPAE healthcare workers will continue to mobilize and advocate for worker and patient safety, to address racial disparities in healthcare, to help our locals engage our members, to organize new units and bargain stellar contracts,” she said.
HPAE’s members at the Union’s 2021 virtual convention recognized State Sen. Loretta Weinberg with a Lifetime Achievement award for 28 years of service in the NJ legislature, as a “Hero of Healthcare” who has supported working people, especially healthcare workers, throughout her years in public life.
“With her leadership, we won transparency rules over for-profit hospitals, whistleblower protection and staffing disclosure laws,” Barbara Rosen said in presenting the award. “Senator Weinberg also fought successfully for open public record laws, against sexual harassment and for funding for autism and other healthcare programs.”
“To all of you at HPAE, it’s been my privilege,” Weinberg said on receiving the award. “You’ve helped to take me on the ride of my life, on an adventure that I could never have anticipated . . . You have each done more for me and more for the people I represented than I could ever have done for you.”
HPAE also recognized Laura Kenny of the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration as a “Hero of Healthcare” for her regulatory work, especially investigating healthcare facilities during the pandemic.
Even as more workers were becoming infected and getting sick with COVID-19 and risked dying from the disease, some employers remained impervious to embarrassment. HPAE has filed 26 OSHA complaints against operators of healthcare facilities for failing to protect workers and other violations during the coronavirus pandemic. OSHA investigated and issued 26 citations and fines against facility operators in those complaints.
“For a long time, healthcare workers accepted that violence and hazardous work conditions were ‘just part of the job,” White said. “HPAE challenged that belief, and built a health and safety program to train, advocate, bargain and lobby for job protections. But we didn’t do that alone. All along the way, we had the expertise and insight from Laura Kenny, whose long career at the nation’s OSHA, consistently put workers’ safety at the forefront of her work. In her prior role, Laura was our liaison to all things OSHA.”
President White presented the “HPAE State Award” to Claudia Storicks, a registered nurse, and at-large member of HPAE Local 5105 at Virtua Health, who has provided exceptional service to our union as the Treasurer of HPAE’s Committee on Political Education.
HPAE locals also gave awards to members and, or leaders of their locals in recognition of their work serving patients and building the union, especially during the pandemic.
In President White’s State Of The Union speech she noted, that upon taking office, the leadership team immediately confronted a 2018 adenovirus outbreak at a long-term care facility. The union pushed for the passage of legislation requiring long term care facilities to provide an infectious disease preparedness plan to the NJ Department of Health. That law was limited in its application, only applying to facilities who provide pediatric long-term care.
“It was a warning and little did we realize then, a foreshadowing of the future,” White said. “Eleven children lost their lives, simply because the owners did not identify and respond to the outbreak in a manner that was in the best interest of these vulnerable patients.”
Over the next three years, HPAE nurses and healthcare workers battled multiple infectious disease outbreaks, including the ongoing COVID-19, in their healthcare facilities; stood up to profit-driven healthcare corporations that have put their interests ahead of patients and workers’ interests; mobilized and fought back against anti-union Supreme Court decisions, and, through it all, continue to provide safe patient care with pride and resiliency.
The coronavirus pandemic presented the union with challenges as scores of members were exposed to the virus, became sick and eight members died of the disease caused by the virus. The Convention featured a poignant memorial video honoring those members whose lives were lost since the outbreak start of the early days of 2020.
In her address, White concentrated on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic that is dominating so much of the work of the union.
“From the early days of the COVID pandemic outbreak, it became clear that because there was no federal or state-wide pandemic plan, every healthcare employer was tasked with handling this pandemic in whatever way they saw fit,” White said. “A few did well. Most did not. As a union, we had to move into crisis mode and respond just as our soldiers do in war: by prioritizing and managing the most critical situations. The only problem was, unlike soldiers at war, our members were often not provided with protective gear and weapons they needed to keep them safe.”
She lauded HPAE members for all their work and their sacrifices, especially during the pandemic.
“As we prepare to move forward into the future, whatever that may hold,” White continued, “we keep an eye on the past, knowing we have made a difference in our environment and remembering the change we effected was because we are a strong union.”
HPAE members also passed several resolutions setting a renewed focus to strategically set a course to improve health and safety conditions in all health care facilities, address racial disparities in healthcare and continue to build and grow the strength of their union.
Fore more information, contact: Michael Allen, (646) 436-7556