COVID-19 and Rochester Labor
SEIU Local 1199
Interview with Tracey Harrison (President, Service Employees International Union, 1199). 25 February 2021
SEIU 1199 truly represents frontline health workers including two thousand in ten Rochester-region nursing homes and fifteen hundred at Strong Hospital, as well as fifty-four at Jordan Health Center. Represented occupations range from housekeeping to transportation, from RNs to cooks. Their constant exposure to COVID-19 has resulted in high levels of anxiety, short-staffing, working overtime, and burnout. Caregivers are concerned about the effects these stressors have on their ability to provide high quality patient care.
PPE has been provided by employers, supplemented by supplies from the union. A website created by SEIU includes information on COVID-19. Mask compliance is high and union reps report weekly to union leadership on conditions in their workplaces — numbers of COVID cases among workers and clients/patients, interactions with management, what is going well and what isn't, etc. Where mandated by contract, workers receive hazard pay. Rather than negotiate during the pandemic, Strong Hospital agreed to a one-year extension of the contract, including health care coverage for members.
Families of residents have become increasingly supportive of the nursing home workers as systemic inefficiencies have become transparent.
SEIU 1199 has established phone trees to maintain regular contact with members and the union holds virtual meetings with them, in addition to offering virtual trainings and staying in touch via text messaging and e-mail. The union is utilizing technology more effectively than in the past in order to communicate with members.
Members have been getting vaccinated against COVID-19; some, but not all, employers have encouraged workers to be vaccinated. By the end of February, 2021 an estimated forty percent of members had received the vaccine.
Given their exposure and their role in combatting the pandemic, as well as the chronic risk of infecting family members, the mental health pressures on this workforce are significant. EAP services are available, but many SEIU 1199 members feel that they are not receiving enough recognition.