COVID-19 and Rochester Labor
IUE-CWA (FSW) Local 81381
Interview with Ebony Burgess (President, Federation of Social Workers, IUE-CWA 81381), 4 May 2021
The Monroe County Federation of Social Workers represents nearly eight hundred hourly employees of the County of Monroe's Department of Human Services. Employees work at several of Monroe County's facilities such as Monroe Community Hospital, the Children's Detention Center, Bivonia, St. Paul Street and Westfall Road. The workers are charged with supporting the community through administering benefits and services such as Temporary Assistance, Food Stamps, Housing, Daycare, Medicaid, Heap, Child Support, child protective services, adult protection, and investigations.
The COVID-19 pandemic struck just as Monroe County was undergoing a transition of administration. Initially there were concerns about acquiring proper PPE equipment at a time when there was a shortage as well as frustrations with technology and systems support as they were not prepared to deal with the influx in staff working from home. The union responded to the shortage of PPE by reaching out to the community and advocating for hazard pay for all members. They succeeded in negotiating a twenty percent increase on the hourly rate for members who engaged in face-to-face work with the community. The Children's Detention Center, where workers unable to maintain proper social distancing saw a COVID outbreak, resulting in staff shortages, a forty percent pay increase was negotiated for nearly thirty members for three months.
The pandemic has impacted social services clients, especially those without access to computers. There has been an increase in food stamp applications and mental health issues. The Federation of Social Workers members' jobs have fluctuated to adjust to changes in client demand and the community's needs.
So far, no members of the local have succumbed to COVID. However, members are experiencing burnout and have been referred to Employee Assistance Program and Healthcare Assistance with Member Support which is a Union EAP service. The Federation of Social Workers is advocating to continue to allow members to work from home after the pandemic. The pandemic has shown that they are still able to serve the community while allowing staff in certain areas to work from home. Hopefully in the next contract it will reflect such changes.
Although the FSW executive board continues to meet face-to-face, the members have met quarterly only on-line since March 2020. Thanks to the union's insistence, members were, somewhat belatedly, recognized as essential workers and most have been vaccinated. Overall, The Federation of Social Workers has been well-satisfied with the County administration's receptiveness to members' needs.