Union Updates

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Frontline, essential workers honored by labor

PAYING RESPECTS: Al Vega of MassCOSH speaks at Workers’ Memorial Day in Boston last year.

PAYING RESPECTS: Al Vega of MassCOSH speaks at Workers’ Memorial Day in Boston last year.

“Many workers are being exposed to the deadly coronavirus just while doing their jobs,” said Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “We have to do more to protect working people in Massachusetts,” Tolman told the participants in the state’s annual Workers’ Memorial Day.

In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recent event had to take place over Facebook due to the state’s social-distancing regulations. Speakers called for “essential workers” to get access to such benefits as workers’ compensation for COVID-19.

The COVID-19 crisis has deeply affected Local 888 members, particularly at the Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes. At least 84 caregivers at the Soldiers’ Home have tested positive for the coronavirus.

The event was spearheaded by the Massachusetts Coalition for Safety and Health, which Local 888 is a member of. A solemn part of the event was the reading of the names of workers who died in 2019 from injuries or illnesses sustained on the job in Massachusetts.

This memorial included a special tribute to that state’s frontline and essential workers — including six of whom have died from the COVID-19 disease they likely contracted on the job.

“May we honor the lives of those who have been lost due to workplace injuries by fighting for the safety for all workers,” said the Rev. Mariama White-Hammond of the New Roots AME Church in Boston.

MassCOSH gives Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plans failing grades. (For the full MassCOSH report card on Baker’s plan, see (https://tinyurl.com/888Baker).

MassCOSH had previously made a number of recommendations to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s Reopening Advisory Board (http://masscosh.org/sites/default/files/documents/MassCOSH%20Reopening%20Advisory%20Board%20Comments%205.11.20%20%282%29.pdf).

MassCOSH has released a “COVID-19 Tool Kit for Essential Workers: Health and Safety Protections and How to Make Them Happen” (https://tinyurl.com/888essential). It includes sections particularly of interest for Local 888 members:

  • Custodians, janitors and cleaners.
  • Food service workers.
  • Healthcare workers in nursing homes.
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“The HEROES Act” — a proposed federal response to the public health and economic crisis facing working people

Yesterday, House Democrats led by Speaker Pelosi unveiled a fourth legislative package, “The HEROES Act,” to respond to the ongoing public health and economic crisis that has ensued as a result of the pandemic and the Trump Administration’s failure to adequately prepare for and respond to the threat COVID-19 poses to working people and our communities.

The HEROES ActAt almost 2,000 pages, this major piece of legislation is a step forward and includes many of the priorities SEIU and other union members have been fighting for. There are areas that need improvements and it will take all of us campaigning to get a robust version signed into law.

The House plans to take up the bill on Friday, and pass the bill by the end of the day. The Senate, as of right now, has no plans to act on additional legislation. Senator McConnell has instead filled the Senate’s schedule by lining up votes on inexperienced, unqualified and anti-worker nominees to the federal judiciary, rather than addressing the immediate needs of essential workers and local and state governments.

The President has also not indicated he will support additional measures to protect essential workers and working people. Our pressure campaign will be critical in forcing the Senate and Administration to act.

  • Linked HERE you will find a topline summary of The HEROES Act, including provisions that so many of you have fought for and advocated on.

  • Additionally, linked here is a statement by SEIU President Mary Kay Henry released yesterday about the legislation.

Please continue to reach out to your elected officials at all levels, let them know directly what your members are facing, the ways they are leading in this crisis, and that we need government and industry to act quickly to pass legislation to Protect All Workers.

As SEIU members fight on the front lines of this public health crisis and economic emergency, Local 888 and the labor movement will keep fighting until we win real, structural change that transforms our economy and our democracy so that we win racial and economic justice for all.

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Uncertain times: Higher education staff discuss impact of Coronavirus on their jobs

Working in Higher Ed in Uncertain TimesSpeakers said that gaining a seat at the table with management when dealing with the pandemic was a good example of what unions can do.

“Our members benefit from speaking with one voice, when dealing with Emerson,” said Shaylin Hogan, vice president of Local 888’s Emerson chapter. “We speak with members regularly and have developed a good working relationship with our Human Resource Department. That really helped us get members’ coronavirus concerns addressed.”

With the rapidly building crisis, “It was clear that management was tuning out our members,” said Aimee Slater, head steward for Local 888’s Brandeis chapter. “We quickly organized a meeting with management. It was amazing to see our members who haven’t spoken up much before, feel so empowered. We stuck together for the sake of our peers; and management saw the power of our union.”

Working in Higher Ed in Uncertain TimesWith a voice at work becoming so vitally important for higher ed workers, Local 888 is convening its second annual Higher Education Labor Summit on June 20, 2020 to connect workers fighting to improve their work lives and share skills that it takes to win on campus. The summit will provide workers an opportunity to strategize and coordinate with other university workers on their organizing and contract campaigns. Higher ed workers can sign up here:  http://www.tinyurl.com/higheredlaborsummit

“At American University, we were 10 months into a union campaign and building up a head of steam when the coronavirus hit,” said Sam Sadow, visual resources curator and adjunct professor. The lack of face-to-face contact has slowed recruitment down, but the campaign is still moving forward. The key issues remain the same during the crisis, they are just heightened. For example, they have been organizing for a say in policy changes and now, during the pandemic, those policy changes seem to be happening daily.

A worker organizer at Tufts said, “I really like Tufts, but I want it to do better by its workforce.” He said the university staff’s COVID-19 transformation of the workplace shows: “We are awesome. I’m proud of my co-workers for all they’ve done. It’s important to remind ourselves: We are a skilled and flexible workforce. We deserve to have a real voice in our future.”

“Winning isn’t easy, but with a union, you’re not by yourself,” said Hogan. “Now speculation about what will happen after the coronavirus crisis is over — abound. We don’t know what the new normal will look like. But you have to tell the administration that they’re going to have to listen to us. We are leaders on our campus, and we must demand a voice to help shape new policies.”

Links to resources to help workers stay safe!
COVID-19 RESOURCES FOR SEIU LOCALS
Comprehensive Information on Covid-19

Visit this Facebook group for discussion of clerical, technical and professional staff employment issues.

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Holyoke members still seeking to ‘Protect Veterans’

‘PROTECT VETERANS’: This sign at the entrance to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is part of Local 888’s renewed campaign to provide high-quality care.

‘PROTECT VETERANS’: This sign at the entrance to the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home is part of Local 888’s renewed campaign to provide high-quality care.

Local 888 members at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home tried to get management to provide more personal protective gear in the run-up to the COVID-19 disaster that has led to the death of many veterans there. But they did not get the gear.

At every step of the way, Bennett Walsh, the superintendent of the Soldiers’ Home, and his managers failed to get the nursing facility ready for the coronavirus pandemic. They failed to protect their workers and the vets. In fact, management retaliated against anyone who questioned their orders regarding health and safety.

But Local 888 members only wanted to keep the veterans and themselves safe from the scourge of COVID-19. Meanwhile, the clock was ticking.

Now, it’s not only the friends and family of the deceased veterans who are suffering from the awful tragedy. It’s the workers — who cared deeply about serving those veterans and often viewed them as family.

And it’s become clear that understaffing and management’s authoritarian style left the Soldiers’ Home ill-equipped to handle the emergency. Since late March — 52 of the Soldiers’ Home residents have died, with 44 of those testing positive for the coronavirus (as of April 17). In addition, 81 Soldiers’ Home staffers (out of 348 employees) and another 100 veterans have tested positive.

Finally, on March 30, the state removed Walsh from his post.

The correct reporting of deaths and the crisis intervention by the state happened, because Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues reached Francisco Urena, state secretary for veterans services and Marylou Sudders, Massachusetts secretary of health and human services on Sat., March 28.

Rodrigues informed Secretary Sudders that, regardless of what she was being told, Local 888 members were seeing many coronavirus-related deaths at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

Now, all workers and residents are being tested for the coronavirus. And amidst extensive media coverage, Gov. Charlie Baker has appointed an ex-federal prosecutor to oversee an independent state investigation into the COVID-19 tragedy at the Soldiers’ Home.

Yet it was actually months before the pandemic exploded at the Holyoke facility that Local 888 members had pressured management to correct problems. These included understaffing and harsh workplace conditions, such as forced overtime and unfair disciplinary actions. In short, an authoritarian management culture.

In fact, Local 888 had buttons printed and ready to go for a renewed campaign that called for maintaining the care of the state’s veterans while improving dignity and respect for workers. But because of concerns about maintaining social distance as the coronavirus threat increased, chapter leaders canceled a members meeting set for March 11.

Indeed, the failure to properly staff, which entailed forced overtime, meant the Soldiers’ Home was not prepared for a crisis. This forced overtime could mean a double shift at the elderly-care facility.

Further, as the Holyoke crisis deepened, Local 888 was lodging complaints with management for weeks.

On March 17, Local 888 sent a letter raising concerns about the COVID-19 crisis — and demanding that management disclose its plan for providing needed safety equipment and complying with U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommendations. Repeated calls to management for its plans went unheeded, until Walsh was put on administrative leave.

As the crisis grew, Soldiers’ Home staff were berated over the intercom for calling in sick, said Erin Saykin, a Holyoke Local 888 steward. “Management didn’t give workers the proper N95 masks when we needed them,” she added. “The situation was scary. Now, I just hope we can once again do our best for the veterans,” said Saykin, who has been home sick with COVID-19.

Rodrigues, the Local 888 president, said one nursing assistant who pushed back against management was hit with a disciplinary letter — for being “disruptive” and inciting “alarm” amongst employees. “He was just asking for the basic, standard safety equipment that is needed in this kind of situation,” she said.

The union protected the worker from this apparent retaliatory action by management. This attempt by management to discipline the worker for wearing the correct personal protective gear came only one day after Local 888 had officially demanded a COVID-19 plan.

Members’ demands for proper gear included a good supply of and ready access to the N95 mask, the standard for dealing with the fast-spreading COVID-19.

Rodrigues said she was shocked to find out about the worsening situation at the Soldiers’ Home during the week before Walsh’s removal. She said management’s response to the outbreak was “simply unbelievable.”

“They’ve handled the whole situation terribly,” added Saykin.

As the crisis unfolded that last week before Walsh’s removal, management brought in a refrigerated storage truck for the deceased. Public accusations are flying now. These include charges that Soldiers’ Home management kept the mounting deaths a secret for half a week.

The chapter vice president for the Soldiers’ Home, Joe Ramirez, was home sick with a fever, tremendous body aches and a “dry scratchy throat.” Ultimately, he tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I’ve never been through anything like this,” he said. “It’s 20 times worse even than when I had the flu.” He was severely ill for the week leading up to Walsh’s dismissal and beyond.

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Chronology of a crisis at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home

'PROTECT VETERANS': The buttons were all set for the Local 888 chapter's campaign at Holyoke Soldiers' Home. But tragedy hit first.

‘PROTECT VETERANS’: The buttons were all set for the Local 888 chapter’s campaign at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. But tragedy hit first.

SEIU Local 888 actively called for changes to be made at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home months before the debacle that has left 52 veterans dead as of April 17 — at least 44 of them from the coronavirus. As the crisis unfolded, Local 888 played a key role — both in trying to fix the situation and prevent infections and in bringing the debacle before the public eye.

In the wake of the deaths at the Soldiers’ Home, Local 888 members are heartbroken. Members care deeply for the veterans they serve, and the disaster is a great tragedy for them, too. After all, they go there day after day to work and do their best for the vets.

 

Wed., March 11, 2020         A Local 888 meeting for members at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home (HSH) was scheduled. The goal was to begin a campaign to protect veterans there. The HSH membership meeting was canceled due to concerns about maintaining proper social distancing amidst COVID-19 concerns.

Sat., March 14                      HSH halts visitations to the Soldiers’ Home.

Tues., March 17                   With members’ growing concerns about the COVID-19 crisis, Local 888 formally writes to Superintendent Bennett Walsh requesting that management provide needed safety equipment and disclose its plan for complying with CDC recommendations. There was no response from management. Staff had already identified at least one resident who had COVID-19 symptoms.

Wed., March 18                    A Local 888 member works the overnight shift at the home and wears personal protective equipment (PPE). He is verbally reprimanded by a supervisor.

Fri., March 20                        The worker receives a letter from Director of Nursing Vanessa Lauziere, accusing him of wearing personal protective equipment “without permission or need” and that doing so, “unnecessarily disrupted and alarmed staff.” The union protected the worker.

Sat., March 21                      Holyoke Soldiers’ Home was notified a resident had tested positive for the coronavirus, according to published reports.

Sun., March 22                     Bennett Walsh informs all staff that a veteran had tested positive for COVID-19 and was quarantined in a private room. Union members report that the veteran was still free to walk around the unit, risking the spread of the infection.

Tues., March 24                   The reprimanded worker files a formal incident report protesting management’s decision to discipline him for wearing personal protective equipment.

Wed., March 25                    Local 888 sends a second information request to Superintendent Walsh regarding COVID-19 plans. No response.

Wed., March 25                    Local 888 sends a request for an immediate meeting to Jeffrey Krok, labor relations counsel for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Thurs., March 26                  Local 888 sends a third information request and a demand to bargain to Superintendent Walsh regarding the COVID-19 plan for HSH. No response.

Thurs., March 26                  Local 888 President Brenda Rodrigues sends a letter to Walsh, formally requesting Holyoke Soldiers’ Home to comply with CDC guidelines and provide SEIU Local 888 members with proper safety equipment.

Local 888 stated that the union, “is prepared to take any and all necessary measures to remedy our concerns, including going to higher levels of state government and making our case to veterans’ advocacy groups and the news media.”

Fri., March 27                        Local 888 leaders and staff formulate a plan to escalate efforts to address the emerging crisis at the home: First to management, then to cabinet-level state officials, then to the media.

Sat., March 28                      A fourth information request is sent to Superintendent Walsh regarding COVID-19 plans. No response.

Sat., March 28                      Local 888 union organizer Cory Bombredi reports that HSH members are telling him that the number of deaths and infections are increasing, and management is not responding to urgent appeals for help.

Sat., March 28                      9:00 p.m. — President Brenda Rodrigues finally reaches Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders, who had not been informed about the extent of the problems at HSH. Secretary Sudders said that she only knew of one death and one patient diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus.

Mon., March 30                    3:00 p.m. — President Brenda Rodrigues has a conversation with Sudders’ health and human services staff team.

4:30 p.m.  — Bennett Walsh put on administrative leave.

Tues., March 30                   Later, Rodrigues has a follow-up call with the staff at health and human services.

Wed., April 1                         Gov. Charlie Baker announces independent investigation into Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

 

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Members help dispatchers protect selves

boston-police-department-decal-33

Local 888 members came to the rescue of the Boston Police Department dispatchers, who are on front lines during the fight against COVID-19. The Local 888 dispatchers were in need of the kind of supplies in high demand during the coronavirus crisis — such as disinfecting wipes, disinfecting spray, hand sanitizer and disposable gloves.

So, Local 888 put out the word, including on Facebook (see link), and members answered the call.

“Our fellow union members have stepped up for one another, and we already have a very small supply of needed items,” said Sean Murphy, a dispatcher and shop steward of the Local 888 chapter. “We have more coming in from members who have reached out to friends and family, and we will hopefully soon have a fair amount that would cover anyone who can’t find them in local stores. Thanks again.”

Dominic Dimare, Local 888 chapter president for the BPD, thanked those in and outside the department for pitching in. Local 888 represents a wide range of BPD civilian workers — with such job titles as analyst, clerk, communications equipment operator, diesel and engine repairman, storekeeper, accountant, administrative assistant and secretary.

In these challenging times for the city, state and country: it’s difficult physically, mentally and emotionally. For all these reasons, Local 888 aims to support our first responders.

To aid our Boston Police dispatcher members with: disinfecting wipes, disinfecting spray, hand sanitizer and disposable gloves and other items, please contact Antonio C. Nunes @ acnunes@seiu888.org.

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Mashpee boosts dispatchers

ON THE EVE OF THE CRISIS: Mashpee chapter leaders Teri Lambert, left, and Judy Mooney organized the contract vote. The new contract was overwhelmingly approved.

ON THE EVE OF THE CRISIS: Mashpee chapter leaders Teri Lambert, left, and Judy Mooney organized the contract vote. The new contract was overwhelmingly approved.

On the eve of the age of COVID-19 lockdowns, dispatchers got a boost in pay as part of a new contract for Local 888’s Mashpee chapter. The contract, which includes cost-of-living increases of 6 percent over a three-year period, was overwhelmingly approved.

Now, members are looking forward to getting their raises when the new contract begins.

Mashpee public safety dispatchers were all moved up a pay grade, to “Grade V.” This will mean individuals will “move to the step closest to their current rate of pay that is at least an increase of 2 percent above their rate of pay on June 30, 2020.” A public safety dispatcher supervisor will move to “Grade VI.”

For dispatchers working second shift (4 p.m. to 12 a.m.), the night-shift differential moves up to $30 per week. Those working third shift (12 a.m. to 8 a.m.) will get paid a $40 per week differential. For dispatchers working on Saturday and Sunday, the weekend differential will be $25 per shift.

In addition, dispatchers “will maintain their current anniversary dates and will advance to the next step of the July 1, 2020 wage scale on their anniversary date.” A memorandum of understanding was signed March 19.

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MassDefenders net win during crisis

RACHEL SCOTCH

RACHEL SCOTCH

“Many workers all over the world are struggling with the question of how to do their job if … they don’t go to the office. So, how do lawyers get their work done if they can’t go to the courthouse?

Workers in the Massachusetts public defenders agency are deemed “essential.” At the same time, many Massachusetts courthouses are closed and lawyers may not be able to actually meet with clients.

“Meanwhile, people still get charged with offenses,” said Rachel Scotch, president of the MassDefenders, a Local 888 affiliate. So, workers for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the official name of the agency, had follow-up questions about how that was all going to happen.

The MassDefenders Executive Board came up with an array of situations that had to be dealt with and sent them in a letter to management. Even better, the state agency dealt with them.“We got a great response,” said Scotch. “It was significant that, although we are not officially recognized as a union, we did a good job of acting like one. It was a real win for us that the exact issues we brought up in our letter to management were dealt with — and broadcast to the entire agency — the next day.”

The issues covered by the MassDefenders’ letter included identifying which are specifically required to go into the office.

For her part, Scotch speaks to clients while working from home. She can’t visit them, in part due to of a lockdown of some state facilities. She can file motions for clients via email. This method, one she hopes will continue into the future, is now more widely available across the state.

For more information on the COVID-19 resources, see Local 888’ website http://www.seiu888.org/coronavirus-covid-19/.

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Cafeteria workers have time to train in Hopkinton

PEGGE MINKLE

PEGGE MINKLE

The COVID-19 crisis with its stay-at-home orders have the economy reeling, and Local 888 members dealing with a range of situations. Gov. Charlie Baker shut down the schools starting March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

“We’ve been doing quite well — so far,” said Pegge Minkle, chapter president for the Hopkinton cafeteria workers. So far, everyone’s getting paid while doing online training in food service work. Courses range from sanitation to what meets the portion size and nutritional requirements — across a wide range of ages — for the federal lunch program.

The Hopkinton cafeteria workers, like most SEIU Local 888 members, were still getting paid as usual as April began. Arrangements vary — from custodians working 20 hours per week, to other custodians working full time on jobs that had been on the back burner, to Department of Public Works employees coming to work on a rotational basis.

In Hopkinton, the food service director has been taking care of the small number of requests for federally subsidized breakfasts and lunches. Cafeteria workers are ready to come in if more help is needed.

“We’ve been so short-staffed in the cafeterias that we have not had the time to take part in trainings,” said Minkle. “Now, staff has the time to do it. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. It’s nice to be able to absorb the material without answering to a crazy schedule.”

Staffers take the courses online, and when they finish a given section are tested and given a certificate. Cafeteria workers return the certification to the food service director.

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Randolph wins health pay

When Local 888’s school cafeteria, maintenance and clerical chapters were notified about looming layoffs, they fired off letters of protest.

Randolph School Committee members are “targeting their lowest-paid employees and inflicting economic hardship upon them during this national crisis,” said Lisa Routson, of the school cafeteria chapter. “The governor and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education both recommended and encouraged school committees to continue to pay their hourly workers. Instead, Randolph has decided to punish their most vulnerable employees.”

In the end, the three chapters were able to use their union grievance and bargaining rights to reach an agreement with the Randolph School Committee that members were happy with — at least given the health crisis that grips the country.

Local 888 members were given the choice of moving to a 30-hour-per-week schedule or a furlough with Randolph schools paying the employer part of the health insurance while the employee is on furlough.

For more information on bargaining during the COVID-19 crisis, email rwilson@seiu888.org

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Boston chapter to vote online

20_888-SEIU Local logo2

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people around the globe to radically alter their behaviors. Sometimes, that could be a good thing.

For two elections at Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development, Local 888 members used “OpaVote,” an online voting utility. The chapter is voting to approve their bargaining committee members and whether to switch back to having a separate contract. Membership participation was 68 out of 92 eligible members voting.

Results won’t be available until April 20.

OpaVote’s website says the company maintains voter privacy: “Voter emails are used only for your election.” The company says it uses encryption to “provide top-notch security and reliability.” For more information, go to https://www.opavote.com/.

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ALWAYS ESSENTIAL

ALWAYS ESSENTIAL: The Marlborough cafeteria staff is working away in the kitchen. With the COVID-19 crisis, they are making lunches and breakfasts that are delivered to bus stops for the city's children.

ALWAYS ESSENTIAL: The Marlborough cafeteria staff is working away in the kitchen. With the COVID-19 crisis, they are making lunches and breakfasts that are delivered to bus stops for the city’s children.

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