Union Updates

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‘We’ve been vindicated’

JOE RAMIREZ

ERIN SAYKIN

ERIN SAYKIN

An independent investigation, commissioned by Gov. Charlie Baker, paints a harsh picture of management’s actions at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home as the deadly COVID-19 crisis swept through the facility. The only silver lining in the report is that it shows Local 888 members and other staffers hard at work trying to care for the veterans who they were determined to serve.

“We’ve been vindicated,” said Kwesi Ablordeppey, chapter president, pointing to Local 888 and the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home members. “Much of what we had been complaining about has now come to light,” he added, referring in part to the

understaffing and poor management that had gone on for years.

The COVID-19 disaster there showed that “management was not up to doing the job,” he said.

The job entailed caring for residents with an average age of 85, according to the report, which said that some of management’s decisions during the crisis “were utterly baffling from an infection-control perspective, and were inconsistent with the Home’s mission to treat its veterans with honor and dignity.”

With the unveiling of the report, “everybody gets to see what we had to deal with, working with that management,” said Joe Ramirez, vice president of Local 888’s Holyoke chapter.

“I have a sense of relief, because the truth is out there,” he added. “We were there for our veterans. We wanted to do our best for them. We cared deeply.”

“The state should have stepped in to do something sooner — before we had such a traumatic meltdown,” said Erin Saykin, a Holyoke Local 888 steward. Instead, she said, the higher-ups seemed to side for years with the home’s management, which had created an atmosphere of “constant bullying and retaliation.”

And the staff had to contend as well with the constant understaffing that went on. Forced overtime went along with it. This could mean having to work four, or even eight hours past their expected and planned-for shift’s ending.

Local 888 members had raised alarm bells about staffing going back to 2015, she said. “It would have helped if they at least treated us with respect,” Saykin added.

The state’s health and human services agency, which oversees the facility, said that 98 veterans died during the outbreak there, with 76 of those testing positive for the coronavirus. An additional 84 veterans and more than 80 staff tested positive.

The independent report, The COVID-19 Outbreak at the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke, shows how the recipe for failure was already baked into the chaotic situation at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, with its neglectful and authoritarian leadership. When the COVID-19 crisis hit, there was failure right from the first case.

The first big mistake, the report said, was the “failure to promptly isolate patients suspected of COVID-19 (by) using the rooms set aside for isolation.” A man the report refers to as “Veteran 1” had been “showing symptoms for weeks” of COVID-19, and had tested negative for other common respiratory conditions. The Holyoke Home had, in fact, set up proper “isolation rooms.”

The report continued: “by any reasonable measure, Veteran 1 represented a suspected case. But the Soldiers’ Home did nothing to isolate Veteran 1 at the time of his test (March 17): He remained on the dementia unit, living in a room with three roommates, spending time in a common room, and wandering the unit. Only when his result came back positive four days later did the staff move his roommates out and make efforts (largely unsuccessful) to keep Veteran 1 in his room.”

All of this goes against the state and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirements in place at that time.

The report said that understaffing was no excuse for a failure to act: “If in a long-term care facility with a capacity for 248 veterans, there were a staff shortage that made it impossible to comply with public health guidance and isolate one veteran, this would have been the time for Mr. Walsh and his team to sound the alarm and seek more staff. They did not do so until much later.”

The report said that, on March 21, now-fired superintendent Bennett Walsh emailed his superior, less than two hours after the first coronavirus positive test. The email said that “we have isolated said veteran and quarantined the unit.” However, this Veteran 1 had not been isolated while waiting to get the test results, which took days. In the meantime, he had continued to mingle with the other elderly, vulnerable residents.

Beyond that, he was never properly isolated as per CDC or infectious disease requirements, said Ramirez, vice president of Local 888’s Holyoke chapter. “You couldn’t even close the door as you should.” And the three veterans that had shared the room with him were not properly isolated either, when they were moved.

Walsh thus failed to sound the alarm about what would become an infamous coronavirus outbreak. The match had been lit. It was time to put out the fire before it got going. Walsh dithered.

Management did not seem to have learned from the outbreak at Life Care Center Kirkland, Wash., reported at the end of February. More than 35 deaths there were ultimately tied to COVID-19, Washington officials said.

While U.S. nursing homes have been hard hit by the coronavirus, the Soldiers’ Home remains one of the worst cases in the nation. The situation has stabilized now that there are fewer patients and new staff, and after a major assist from National Guard members, to handle the high number of infected patients.

Management’s failure at the Holyoke Home only went on from Veteran 1.

Another key moment was when management ordered that two dementia wards, one with suspected or known infections, be combined. Not to mention that workers were made to cycle between wards with infections, and other wards that were not.

Walsh “had plenty of opportunity to ring the alarm bell,” and he never took advantage of them,” said Saykin. “Management was completely negligent. Shame on them.”

Saykin also contracted COVID-19, and became seriously ill with respiratory problems. The same day that Veteran 1 died, Ramirez came down with COVID-19. Both Local 888 leaders have since recovered and are back at work.

As nursing assistants, Ablordeppey, Ramirez and Saykin are all frontline workers.

Walsh has been ousted in disgrace. His superior, Francisco Urena, the state’s secretary of veterans’ services, has resigned. The Soldiers’ Home assistant director of nursing, Celeste Surreira; director of nursing, Vanessa Lauziere; and medical director David Clinton have resigned or been fired.

For more on the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home disaster, see http://www.seiu888.org/2020/04/17/chronology-of-a-crisis-at-the-holyoke-soldiers-home/.

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New chapter recruiting retirees

888-FundsLogo

Despite the COVID-19 crisis, Local 888 is moving ahead with the formation of a chapter for retirees, with a membership cost of $40 per year. For a form, click this link.

Through this new chapter, Local 888 began offering dental coverage this month. The annual Open Enrollment period for the BCBS Dental Plan runs through the end of the month. For a form, click this link.

For more info, email Linda Deluca at ldeluca.funds@seiu888.org.

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‘Know Your Rights’ eyes safety, health

MassCOSH logo

OSHA Has Been AWOL,” said the headline on The New York Times editorial recently. That’s exactly the problem that a recent Local 888 “Know Your Rights” seminar (via Zoom) took on — with an eye toward giving members some of the tools they need to return to the workplace as Massachusetts gradually reopens.

“Your power is in the union to get management to clean up unsafe workplace conditions,” said Nancy Lessin, an advisor for the National Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health. “And the union is your members — that’s who has the power.”

It’s often advisable to start small, when mobilizing a given workplace, she said, and then build up to working on the bigger issues.

However, in the COVID-19 era, concern over health and safety issues has been heightened. And the virus could pose an imminent hazard requiring urgent action.

For its part, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has failed to give employers clear rules to follow. Instead, it has pointed to general “guidelines” put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are no penalties if employers ignore the threat of the coronavirus.

Nonetheless, said Lessin, “OSHA complaints can be a piece of an overall strategy; you could consider filing OSHA complaints signed by many workers — like a petition.”

The federal agency does have a catchall “General Duty Clause” — meaning that employers are generally required to have a workplace “free from recognized hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” That would include workers’ rights to bathroom and handwashing breaks and to personal protective equipment. The coronavirus has pushed the issue of on-the-job masks and sanitizing to the fore.

A Massachusetts law that went into effect last year makes federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations the minimum standard for all municipal, public authority, higher education and state employees. For more info, see http://www.seiu888.org/2019/02/01/law-spotlights-health-safety/.

Lessin used to be the director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, which Local 888 belongs to. For a YouTube video of her workshop, follow this link.

As reported by The Spark, MassCOSH has given Gov. Charlie Baker’s plan for reopening the economy failing grades (http://www.seiu888.org/2020/05/27/health-coalition-flunks-bakers-reopening-plan/).

MassCOSH has released a “COVID-19 Tool Kit for Essential Workers: Health and Safety Protections and How to Make Them Happen” (Click here to view.) It includes sections particularly of interest for Local 888 members such as custodians, childcare providers and restaurant and healthcare workers.

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Higher ed summit tackles race, COVID-19

SHAYLIN HOGAN

SHAYLIN HOGAN

Local’s 888’s second annual Higher Education Labor Summit threw a spotlight on the struggle for dignity along with health and safety in the COVID-19 workplace — and the importance of the anti-racist demonstrations sweeping the country.

“We need to build and strengthen our union,” Shaylin Hogan told a Zoom audience of 35. Beyond that, she said, “we’re living in a historic moment, with an unparalleled opportunity to change the world.” Hogan is an Emerson College staffer and a Local 888 executive board member.

Higher education is one of Local 888’s key industries. Workers from Emerson and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology along with Tufts, Boston, Brandeis and Suffolk universities attended the event. The coronavirus pandemic has shaken the world of higher education, leaving most staffers in higher ed working from home. Now many colleges are set to have students return to campus. Still, the threat of layoffs looms.

Plans for reopening colleges have been in flux. Meanwhile, debate is building over what workplaces should look like now to keep people safe in a pandemic. For example, Cambridge’s MIT announced in June that fewer than 60 percent of undergraduates would be allowed to return to campus this fall. For those, in-person classes will likely end by Thanksgiving.

Boston University plans to reopen, with students getting the choice to learn online or in person. The school has, however, taken an adversarial position with its unions — and tended to shut them out of the process of dealing with health and safety in the COVID-19 workplace.

In response, Phyllis Payne said, the Local 888 librarians chapter there restarted a health and safety committee, insisting that management have the two members on it that is stipulated under the contract. “We asked that the HVAC system be inspected so that we can find out what modifications have to be made,” she added.

Payne added that the university was setting up testing sites, but how effective they will be remains to be seen. Meanwhile, BU is looking to have some staircases go in only one direction, up or down, with the goal of social distancing.

Internal Local 888 organizer Joe Montagna said that labor contracts and National Labor Rights Board rules provide some leeway for unionized workers. This would apply to health and safety issues along with bargaining over possible layoffs or takebacks, such as an employer cutting retirement contributions.

One strategy for unions is referred to as a clawback — if something is given up, like retirement contributions, it would be given back when times are better.

Hogan, vice president of the Emerson College Local 888 chapter, said leaders were looking to work with management on health and safety. For example, the union president serves on the school’s COVID-19 task force. One goal, Hogan said, is to be seen as helpful, by management, in resolving health and safety issues that members are concerned about.

The Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, which includes Local 888, has released a “COVID-19 Tool Kit for Essential Workers: Health and Safety Protections and How to Make Them Happen” (Click here to view.) It includes sections particularly of interest for Local 888 members:

  • Custodians, janitors and cleaners.
  • Food service workers.
  • Healthcare workers in nursing homes.

For more on MassCOSH, see http://www.seiu888.org/2020/05/27/health-coalition-flunks-bakers-reopening-plan/.

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Rally’s call: Recognize the Union Now

‘BLACK WORKERS MATTER’: Workers at College Bound Dorchester and their supporters march to protest the firing of staff members.

‘BLACK WORKERS MATTER’: Workers at College Bound Dorchester and their supporters march to protest the firing of staff members.

Workers at the nonprofit College Bound Dorchester/ Boston Uncornered took part in a widely reported rally protesting the illegal firing of eight co-workers shortly after the staff announced a decision to unionize.

About 75 workers, their supporters and representatives from labor unions rallied for justice and union recognition several days later. They listened to speeches from workers and local luminaries such as Darlene Lombos, executive secretary-treasurer at the Greater Boston Labor Council, who charged that CBD practices “racism with a smile.”

They then marched down Dorchester Ave. with signs saying such things as “Black Workers Matter, Reinstate the Eight” and chanting slogans like “Boston is a union town” and “Black Lives Matter on the rise, now it’s time to organize.”

The rally’s demand: That agency CEO Mark Culliton reinstate the eight workers, about a third of the staff, and recognize the union. The workers believe the layoffs are in retaliation for forming a
union, affiliated with Local 888, that they call “Uncornered United.” Local 888 has filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

College Bound refused to voluntarily recognize the union, so workers petitioned the NLRB for a union certification election. The vote by mail ballot will begin on July 29.

The layoffs particularly antagonized some workers coming on the heels of the agency’s annual fundraiser (this year a virtual one), which pulled in a reported $650,000, including $100,000 from New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

The workers have a petition that supporters are urged to sign: tinyurl.com/CBDsolidarity. For a YouTube video of the rally, go to Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/SEIULocal888/) or follow this link.

College Bound is focused on getting current and former gang members off the streets and into school, using financial incentives to help them through high school and college. The program includes college readiness advisors who are mentors for the young adults.

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Union urges racial justice, end to police brutality

20_888-SEIU Local logo2

The Local 888 Executive Board has adopted a resolution calling for racial justice and an end to police brutality — as Black Lives Matter marches and protests against harsh policing have swept the country.

The board’s resolution: “The members of SEIU Local 888 join working people across the country to demand change. We condemn police brutality and the murder” of people of color, including indigenous people. The resolution said this violence offers “visible examples of the systemic racism that is deeply embedded in the fabric of our society and economic system.”

Nationwide protests broke out soon after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25 at the hands of police. Derek Chauvin, now fired and charged with murder in Floyd’s death, kept his on knee on the deceased’s neck for a reported eight minutes and 46 seconds.

The resolution added: “For the innumerable black and brown people who have died at the hands of racists, and due to racist policies — we call for justice. To the loved ones whose lives have been stolen: we grieve with you.”

The resolution notes that “COVID-19 has shone a spotlight” on the inequalities in America. According to the Brookings Institution, “Among those aged 45-54, for example, Black and Hispanic/Latino death rates are at least six times higher than for whites.”

For the full text of the Local 888 resolution see http://www.seiu888.org/2020/06/22/seiu-local-888-executive-board-calls-for-justice-and-an-end-to-police-brutality/.

For more info about SEIU’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement and increased police accountability, visit the international union’s page: https://www.seiu.org/blacklivesmatter.

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Essential workers in Oxford OK ‘good solid contract’

MARK GILES

MARK GILES

Local 888 members in Oxford are celebrating a new contract — overwhelmingly approved — that delivers raises, an improved sick bank and better language regarding holiday and sick pay.

“It’s a good, solid contract,” said the chapter president, Mark Giles. In keeping with the COVID-19 era, voting was done by text and email, he said.

The cafeteria and custodial workers covered by the contract, 23 members, got 2 percent in retro pay for the past fiscal year. The new three-year contract starts July 1 — with cost-of-living raises of 2 percent and 1 percent followed by 1 percent with a wage reopener clause.

During the coronavirus crisis, the cafeteria workers continued to make free breakfast and lunches through the spring for the Oxford children who have signed up for them. The students’ parents pick them up at the high school. The cafeteria members have gotten full pay, while dividing up the needed shifts among them this spring.

The cafeteria workers will continue to provide food for kids through the summer.

Custodians were on a part-time schedule, while getting paid for full time, earlier in the COVID-19 crisis. Now they are back in the schools full time as the next school year draws closer. Of course, plans for the fall opening of the schools are still being determined, as with the rest of the state.

The improvement in sick pay rules was a key part of the new contract, he said. Under the old contract, members had to use their personal and vacation days up before dipping into a sick bank funded by members. Now, once a member exhausts their sick days, they can use the sick bank, which other members donate sick days to.

For more on Oxford, see www.seiu888.org. For more information on safety in the COVID-19 era, see https://tinyurl.com/MassCOSH888.

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For now, ‘Dreamers’ safe in U.S.

U.S. SUPREME COURT

U.S. SUPREME COURT

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the Trump administration failed to provide “a reasoned explanation” for ending the “Dreamers” program. So, for now, the nearly 800,000 young immigrants it covers remain free from the threat of deportation.

For Local 888 activist Jonathan Dudley, the issue is personal. One of the Dreamers is Dudley’s brother-in-law, Jonathan Vargas, an intensive-care nurse who works with COVID-19 patients in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Dudley, a Head Start teacher with the Montachusetts Opportunity Council, said he was “so thankful” for the court ruling, “which will make a huge difference in the lives of people I love.”

President Obama set up DACA — or the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program — in 2012 as Congress failed to act on immigration reform. These “Dreamers” were brought up in the U.S. — which is their home.

But the Trump administration may act again to end DACA. Dudley, therefore, is urging people to sign a petition calling on Congress to OK the Dream Act — (https://tinyurl.com/888Dreamer) a congressional proposal that would cement Obama’s program into law. Dudley acknowledges that, for this to happen, there would have be new president and a changed Congress.

To find your congressional representative or U.S. senators, go to: https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_Congress

DACA allowed hard-working young adults like Vargas to get work papers and attend college, while shielding them from deportation if they had a clean criminal record.

Vargas came to this country with his family from a small town in Mexico when he as 12. He has worked in intensive care for four years — along with his wife, who is Dudley’s sister, and a brother.

DACA targets young adults who were, through no fault of their own, brought to the country as children.

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SEIU 888 Sponsors Bill to Halt COVID-19 Evictions and Foreclosures

hfamass-logo-580pxSEIU 888 is part of a grassroots coalition committed to stopping any evictions or foreclosures during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Housing Stability Guarantee Bill will halt rent increases for 1 year, stop no-fault evictions for 1 year, and ban foreclosures during the Pandemic.

Housing Court officials and landlord advocates are projecting up to 20,000 eviction cases will be in the system right after the current moratorium ends (likely on August 18). Of course that will have a disproportionate impact on Black people, communities of color, lower income, working class people, immigrants, and other vulnerable populations.

If we fail to take decisive action, a massive wave of evictions and foreclosures will cause more infections, hasten displacement, hamper economic recovery, tear communities apart, throw more people into an overwhelmed homelessness system, further entrench racial inequality, and cause untold suffering.

Increased rental assistance is one part of the solution, but the scale of the crisis – with 29% of tenants surveyed by MassINC unable to keep up with all rent payments from April through June – means that approach alone is not nearly enough. There is widespread support for bold action, with the same poll showing 75% of state residents back an extension of the eviction moratorium.

Housing is a human right as well as an economic, social, and racial justice issue. See if your elected official has supported the Bill yet. During this public health crisis, putting people needlessly on the street is not only cruel but also a danger to all of our health.

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Retired Member – Dental Annual Open Enrollment Notice

Massachusetts Employers/SEIU Local 888 Health and Welfare Fund is excited to announce that we will be offering dental coverage for Retiree’s effective 7/1/2020. This is to notify you that the Annual Open Enrollment period for the BCBS Dental Plan will run from July 1, 2020 through July 31, 2020. Open Enrollment is the only opportunity to enroll in coverage or make a change to your current coverage without a qualifying event for 2020. Click here for more details

Dental Blue Freedom – Plan B
No Deductible
$1,250 Calendar Year Max (in & out of network combined)
In-Network

Out of Network

Preventive 100% Coverage 80% Coverage
Basic 80% Coverage 65% Coverage
Major 80% Coverage 65% Coverage
Ortho Not Covered Not Covered

 

Retiree Monthly Rates

Employee

$36.16

Employee + One

$74.16

Family

$88.75

Click here for more details

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SEIU Local 888 Executive Board calls for justice and an end to police brutality

The following statement was adopted by a majority vote of the SEIU Local 888 Executive Board on June 19, 2020:

InvoiceLogo100x100Statement by SEIU Local 888 calling for justice and an end to police brutality

The members of SEIU Local 888 join working people across the country to demand change.

We condemn police brutality, and the murder of Black, indigenous, and people of color. We call for justice. For George Floyd, for Ahmaud Arbery, and for Breonna Taylor—for the innumerable black and brown people who have died at the hands of racists, and due to racist policies—we call for justice. To the loved ones whose lives have been stolen: we grieve with you.

In recent weeks, several tragic, criminal incidents have been perpetrated against people of color due to their race. These events are outward, visible examples of the systemic racism that is deeply embedded in the fabric of our society and economic system.

COVID19 has shone a spotlight on many of the inequities in our nation: black people are dying of the pandemic at more than twice the rate of white people, “essential workers” are being treated as disposable while suffering the greatest economic devastation, and black, brown, and working people are being sacrificed as “stock” in the name of “reopening the economy.”

We can’t seem to escape these horrors, and averting our eyes only makes it worse. Staying silent is compliance and solidarity with the wrong side of the fight for equity. Recent events show us that our uncollected voices of despair are not enough. We need our collected voices to scream with outrage at injustice, and we need action. As a union, that means fighting for strong anti-racist language in our contracts and taking action to oppose racism in our workplace and our union.  An injury to one is an injury to all!

Unions lift up the oppressed and exploited and bring about equity through meaningful and positive change in the world around us. Unions are not meant to be a protective shield to keep crimes hidden. Our union is united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and is dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just, economically prosperous and humane society.

We call on law enforcement agencies and their workers’ unions, to take positive action. We call on them to stop being bystanders when they see injustice. We remind them of their oaths: to serve and protect, without qualification. We ask law enforcement officers and their unions to pledge to serve with honor and impartiality; to never betray their badges, integrity, character, or the public trust; to do the right thing in the face of wrongdoing; to be accountable and responsible for their actions and to hold other officers accountable for their actions; to vow to serve their community by never allowing injustice.

For current and future generations, we demand better. We do not want to return to what we had before this week or before this pandemic—we seek to change. We commit ourselves to work against injustice and for a more equitable social and economic commonwealth. We will partner with community organizations and allies to press for accountability and systemic changes across the criminal justice system, as well as living wage work, universal and affordable healthcare, the right to join together in a union, and the dignity and respect that we all deserve, no matter the color of our skin or where we are from.

 More information about SEIU’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement and increased police accountabilit, visit SEIU’s page: https://www.seiu.org/blacklivesmatter

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Boston’s Most Affordable Mortgage Program

Boston’s Most Affordable Mortgage Program

ONE+Boston_Borrower Flyer_05.28.2020 Absolute Final (1)

 

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