Healthcare Heroes to Healthcare Zeroes: Overworked and Undervalued

 

 

This piece was written by Local 5 member Fred Dagdag from Kaiser Permanente Maui Lani. Do you want to write for Local 5? Let us know!

It’s only been a year and a half, yet it feels like eternity since COVID-19 disrupted our lives in Hawaii. I remember not knowing how dangerous this new virus is going to be and how it will affect us. Along with my fellow healthcare workers, we’ve had to suck it up and continue to provide the best care to our patients. Remember when we were labeled as “Healthcare Heroes?”  It felt awesome! Being appreciated by the community, both local and big businesses giving discounts to healthcare workers, as well as delivering plate lunches, other food items, and desserts for us workers. I can also remember the plain cheese pizza from our employer…yum! It was good while it lasted. Nowadays, that feeling has come and gone.  That “Healthcare Hero” feeling has turned us workers feeling like “Healthcare Zeroes.”

I currently work in our Same-day Access/After Hours department as a Licensed Practical Nurse. Our department has been working directly in the front lines from day one of the pandemic, constantly providing direct patient care. We work 12-hour shifts, nights, weekends, and holidays, and provide support to our Primary Care Physicians who are unable to see their own patients throughout the day. We have swabbed thousands of patients for COVID testing in our parking lot in a tent, exposed to the hot sun and in the rain.

A few days ago, I went into work during our change of shift. It was pure madness. I haven’t even clocked in to work yet and was already being asked to start an IV and to room patients. Looking at the exam rooms, there were already patients waiting for nursing treatment, and providers waiting for their rooms to be filled with another patient.

While two medical assistants and triage nurse scramble to do patient intakes with a full capacity waiting room full of socially distanced patients, three of us covered the floor doing treatments, assisting our providers, answering phone calls, wiping down the exam rooms and rooming patients. We went from room to room, treatment after treatment getting each task done. At one point, patients that were concerned asked if I was ok because I was out of breath and sweating profusely when I entered the room. It’s difficult wearing and breathing through an N-95 mask, a surgical mask over it, and protective eyewear. On top of that, constantly running back and forth gathering supplies needed for our nursing treatments that needed to be done. I was only scheduled for a 4 hour shift that evening, imagine doing all of that and more for 12 hours a day?

“It feels like a war zone every day!” states one of my co-workers, talking about the recent influx of patients walking into the clinic. At the end of our shifts, we are run-down and exhausted. Another one of my co-workers stated that “Our shortage of staff has created physical and emotional exhaustion that is beginning to affect our productivity at work as well as our relationships with loved ones at home.” Through the challenges and hardships we face, we go back to work each day and continue to provide the best care that we can.

When short staffed or have a last-minute sick call, staff being called to come in are not being regularly offered overtime or emergency call back pay – which makes a huge difference. If staff is in dire need of help, shouldn’t you upstaff and increase resources so we can continue to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. Isn’t that our mission at Kaiser?

Early this year, I was asked by Local 5 organizer Cindy Aban to become involved with UNITE HERE Local 5 as a committee leader. Through her mentorship, I saw the power and unity of Local 5 and its impact on so many lives, especially the lives of their members. Our social media is filled with “victories” of my fellow hospitality, and food service industry brothers and sisters in their current battles. Some victories that hit close to home are the reopening of smaller clinics on Maui and the neighbor islands. Lastly, our huge victory at Kaiser Wailuku clinic where Local 5 played a tremendous role in keeping two essential departments open.

The current struggles that we face are on the table at our current contract negotiations with Kaiser. Hearing the powerful and emotional testimonies from fellow healthcare workers throughout the state, shows that “the struggle is real,” and that we all are facing them together. Having our union brothers and sisters on our side fighting with us, gives me hope that all will turn out well in the end.

I personally dread going to work these days. Is safe and appropriate staffing too much to ask for? Or not having to worry about undue hardship because of having to work short? It would be nice to have days at work where we can have a moment to just breathe. It is disheartening to see my fellow healthcare workers trying to get through their day without breaking down. Healthcare workers are feeling overworked and undervalued. I do have hopes that things will get better; as long as we healthcare workers stick together, voice our concerns and fight the good fight, I know in time we will have our victory.

Closing Banquets Doesn’t Make Cents

 

This opinion piece was written by Ala Moana Hotel worker, Gina Alcos. If you want to write for Local 5, contact us! 

My first hotel job was at Princess Kaiulani Hotel. I was 20 years old, and I had never had a job that provided free meals, free uniforms, free medical and even a free pension plan! That was the first job I ever had that had benefits. I thought I was so lucky to get a Union job! I currently work at the Ala Moana Hotel.  Today, I called one of my former co-workers to ask how things are at her end of Waikiki. Madonna told me, “not too good, I ran out of unemployment money in July .” Madonna has worked for PK/Moana for over 40 years. We both agreed that the mayor’s decision to shut down all hotel functions for four weeks didn’t make sense. The mayor’s mandates are keeping us from being able to work and making us go broke. I have worked in hotels for over 36 years. At this point in my life, I’m supposed to be in the countdown for retirement. I should have a solid 40 hours a week. I am finally high seniority at the job I’ve worked for 31 years. Instead, I am out of medical insurance, I haven’t contributed to my 401k in a year and a half and now I’m running out of unemployment insurance and being told there is no relief in sight. This means I’m adding on the years I have to work.

March 15,2020 was the last day of work for almost the entire world. For hotel banquet workers in Hawaii, it was the last day until infinity. Every time we are about to open and get a chance to make some money, the COVID numbers go up and we get shut down again. The rules seem lazy; it seems as if the state leaders do not want to go the extra mile to figure out what works in places other than restaurants. So the easy way is to just shut them down.

The state and city’s incompetence in handling the COVID situation has driven me and hundreds to thousands of other food and beverage workers into near poverty.  The scarce amount of us who are able to work a few hours here and there, are returning to work making one third of what we made pre-pandemic. To make any profit in banquets you need at least 30 people per function. However, the mayor just canceled all the functions for September.

Why is this the law? If the government is going to continue to put workers like me out of work, what are they going to do to support us? Unemployment has been a failure since the start of the pandemic. These mandates have a direct impact on me and my fellow workers.

My co-worker had to file a new claim for unemployment this week. He was told he is only eligible to receive $70 a week now. As of September, the State of Hawaii is about to see thousands of workers out of unemployment money.  The full amount when we were furloughed was $648 a week based on the previous 18 months of work. That dropped from $648 a week to $70.   What are we supposed to do for the next 4 weeks on $70 a week? I called Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s office to ask, “will you be funding the additional weeks that you are shutting us down?”  The sweet-sounding young lady who answered told me to call the unemployment office and ask them.

Everyone knows you can’t get through to the unemployment office, that has been our full-time job for the past year! I called the unemployment office and got the same recording that we have all gotten for the past year and a half.  Being that I am persistent, after two days and over 30 tries, someone at UI answered the phone. I asked her what happens to us on September 5th when the extended unemployment runs out? Is the Governor going to extend our unemployment? She said NO. The only people now that can add money will be your employers and that’s only after you have returned to work for 16 to 18 weeks straight. We are lucky if we get to work six weeks straight. Shake my head!  I’m feeling very frustrated at the lack of answers.

My future depends on our Honolulu mayor’s mandates. I’m hoping that the mayor will begin meeting with hotel workers and let us work with him, to find ways to safely hold functions the same way several large restaurants are. If the mayor can allow the Cheesecake Factory in Waikiki to remain open and feed up to 300 people indoors, in a smaller space than a lot of banquet ballrooms, why can’t we remain open and feed people with the same restrictions of 50% occupancy?

 

 

 

Where We Stand – Local 5 Financial Secretary-Treasurer Eric Gill Letter to Kaiser Members

 

For over a year, Local 5 and our union allies have been trying to talk Kaiser out of attacking Kaiser workers.  We conducted dozens of meetings and presented volumes of research and information proving that Kaiser is just plain wrong that workers are overpaid. We’ve used all the bargaining and partnership tactics available.

Nothing has moved Kaiser off its misguided course.  Kaiser has refused to engage in meaningful talks at both the local and national levels.  They’ve wasted all the bargaining time they scheduled with us.  Bargaining broke down on the day both sides had planned to reach a settlement, and Kaiser still has not addressed any of the union proposals for the new contract.  They have not even offered a complete set of proposals of their own. Kaiser can’t even reach an agreement with us on even a simple matter like a temporary contract extension.

It is obvious that there are strong voices in Kaiser management that do not want to settle a fair contract with Local 5 and our allied unions.  Kaiser is forcing a strike.  They think they can win and that we will be forced to take a lousy contract that makes our problems on the job much worse.  They are wrong.

Union members will beat Kaiser and get a good contract.  Our patients and the rest of the public appreciate the hard work and sacrifice that health care heroes have shown during this pandemic. We have a large and powerful alliance of unions—some of America’s largest—working together to win; and our unions are also some of Kaiser’s biggest and most important customers.

Union popularity in America is at an all-time high.  A strike against Kaiser this fall will be the biggest strike American workers have conducted in years.

We are not afraid to stand up to the company.  We have the allies we need and are recruiting more.  Our patients and our communities will support us. We know how to campaign, and we know how to strike.  We know how to stay strong until we win.

We will win this fight.

Where is the recriprocity?

Kori Kim with her family

This piece was written by Local 5 member Kori Kim from Kaiser Permanente. Do you want to write for Local 5, contact us!

March 2020, Hawaii became a victim of COVID-19. Some people adapted to staying home, others transitioned to working from home, distance learning became the new normal, and parents became moderators. By early April, I was working from home full-time, and my son was on distance learning. One condition for working from home was to have childcare provided. The school expected parents to monitor their children throughout the day. Phrases such as “be flexible”, “difficult times”, “still meet standards” were used by both employers and schools.

But what about the needs of families? Were employers and schools thinking about the new situation families were working in? While employers required full work performance, and schools expected regular performance from students, what could families expect in return?

For Kaiser employees, the union was successful in getting Kaiser to provide COVID-19 benefits such as extra sick leave and Child Care Grant. These benefits were available through June 5, 2021. To be eligible, employees had to work between 20-32 hours at a Kaiser facility. But what about us, the remote workers who were told that we can’t watch our kids during work hours because we were on the clock? Why don’t we qualify?

I work in a call center; to ensure that patient privacy is still upheld means I cannot have my kid or anyone else in the same room. I set up my workstation in my home office, where I can have the privacy I need. Although I’m physically in the same house as my son, how can I provide the support he needs while meeting the requirements of the job? How is that different from someone sitting in the office or a clinic?

Kristen Eskaran, another call center representative, faced a similar situation. At one point, she had five children at home with her. She described her work from home environment as difficult and challenging. She said, “They would interrupt me during calls. They needed help with work and I couldn’t help.”

For my son, distance learning created a bigger challenge. COVID-19 affected more than just his learning; it affected his mental health. The stay-at-home orders and distance learning prevented him from seeing his friends. During the time of uncertainty, my son lost hope that he’d ever be able to return to school. Returning to school meant being able to see friends again. A person struggling with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety needs to be supported. Their small improvements should be celebrated while remembering that there is a chance for progress to regress. Through this time, I found that the school didn’t care about his mental health. They wanted a student, struggling with mental health issues, to still achieve higher standards. Why wasn’t flexibility and understanding extended to him?

As a parent, I had to step up and provide the additional support that school wasn’t providing him. Working in a call center, I didn’t have the flexibility to take that many breaks to check on my son, make sure he’s in class, make sure his laptop is connecting without issues, make sure he’s doing his work or paying attention to the teacher on Zoom. Someone had to be there to provide the care and assistance he needed. How can a parent fulfill both the needs of a child and employer when both have the same demands?

The flexibility and support that was being asked of families were not being reciprocated. When the COVID-19 vaccine became available, employers and schools started reviewing their plans for returning to campus or the office. Schools were finally bringing kids back full time. Parents would be returning to the office soon. Fast forward to August 2021, and COVID-19 is back with a vengeance. It does not discriminate, and trends have shown that it is affecting the younger population. With the uptick in cases and deaths, we face the possibility of another shutdown.

Although the government says it is the last option, a shutdown is still possible. If it does reach that point, can we expect to see the flexibility and support that schools and employers were asking from families? I’m hoping that we can avoid a shutdown. If unavoidable, however, schools and employers have an option to do things differently. This would be their second chance to do things right and fairly. My hope is that Kaiser recognizes where you perform your work shouldn’t make a difference. They should continue to provide COVID-19 benefits such as extra sick leave and Child Care Grant to all workers, including remote workers like me.  A parent is a parent, and children need to be tended to, regardless of their age. Parents working from home deserve the flexibility to care for their children while still meeting the needs of the company.

Come Back Stronger

Despite the pandemic, we remain strong and united.

Kaiser Permanente workers will wear red until we win a great contract

Every Tuesday, we will wear our union colors, buttons, and stickers until our Kaiser Permanente workers win a great contract.

Take a selfie and tell us why you agree safe staffing is important. Use the hashtags #SafeStaffingSavesLives #BestJobsBestCare.

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