Facing Another Labor Day In Crisis For Essential Healthcare WorkersSeptember 6, 2021
By Pansy Clayton
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East
As a South Florida nursing home worker and a proud union member, it’s hard for me to believe this Labor Day that we’re still struggling so desperately with the COVID-19 pandemic. For almost two full years now, we’ve been on the front lines of this health crisis that is surging again and has claimed the lives of more than 44,000 Floridians.
For those of us providing long-term care to the state’s most elderly, frail and vulnerable residents, the work has been especially difficult and dangerous. While the virus raged through nursing homes, we’ve faced short-staffing, lack of PPE, low pay and little or no hazard pay. Many of us have gotten sick and some have died. When we’ve contracted the virus on the job, we’ve largely had to use our own time off or go unpaid. When you live paycheck to paycheck like most of us, that means we can’t pay our bills.
We work for near minimum wage in an industry that makes billions in profits, and much of this is funded by our tax dollars.
Meanwhile, the industry keeps cutting deals with Florida GOP lawmakers that put profits over patients and those of us who care for them. New laws that reduce care requirements for our elderly Floridians make no sense, especially in a pandemic, if you really do care.
As a member of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the state’s largest union of caregivers, we’ve been fighting for better pay and protections long before COVID-19. I’ve been a caregiver for 30 years. Low pay, short staffing, insufficient benefits and poor protections are chronic problems in this industry, but the pandemic has exposed and has made the crisis so much worse.
We need employers to step up and do the right thing for their patients and caregivers. We need to be protected, respected and paid fairly. Banners in the hallways calling us essential and heroes are insulting, if they’re not backed up with real commitment and investment.
We love our patients and so often become part of the family, but we can’t survive this job if our employers show us no love in return.
Lawmakers should truly serve the people, not big business and their lobbyists who pay off politicians through campaign contributions. But in Florida, we’ve been harmed for 20 years by a political majority that neglects our nursing home residents, caregivers and those who need help. We also need new state leaders who will take this health crisis seriously instead of ignoring science, fighting common-sense health measures, and playing politics with our lives. This negligence has helped cause the resurgence of the virus to infection levels even worse than last year at this time.
If we don’t get employers or leaders to protect the most essential caregivers now as the virus spikes again, I’m not sure how we’ll make it to Labor Day 2022.
Pansy Clayton is a Certified Nursing Assistant in a South Florida nursing home and a member of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the state’s largest union of caregivers.