Holding signs and chanting in scrubs, over a hundred essential workers joined together in a rally in front of the Stony Brook University Hospital on July 22, calling on the administration to urge the State University of New York Board of Trustees into providing crisis pay for essential workers.
The rally and march, called “Heroes Don’t Get Zeros,” started from the south entrance of Stony Brook University and moved towards the east campus hospital at noon. Participants signed a petition calling on Stony Brook-affiliated hospitals to secure $2,500 hazard pay for essential employees, who have been on the frontlines since the pandemic broke out.
“This is necessary because I feel like it’s free for workers to sit home and make just as much money as essential workers working in an environment dealing with the COVID on a day to day basis,” Maurice Roland, an attendant at Stony Brook University Hospital, said.
According to Steven Kramer, vice president of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East (1199SEIU), the Hospital’s healthcare union, there needs to be real recognition of the risk that all of the essential workers are taking. They want workers to receive the industry standard set by the Northwell Health network in April, which grants an extra payment and a week of paid time off to direct patient caregivers. Other hospitals, such as Southside of Mather at Peconic Bay and St. Charles, have already received these bonuses.
“Hospitals have to find a way to really thank those who work,” Kramer said. “Stony Brook being a very prestigious hospital, it shouldn’t be a doubt and yet they have stalled and stalled and they’ve not provided one penny. They put up many thank you signs, but in this case, thank you is not enough.”
From July 20 to July 22, there has been an increase of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases by nearly 4% on Long Island. On July 22 alone, 706 patients were hospitalized. As the COVID-19 spread through New York, essential employees at Stony Brook University Hospital were and still are the ones who stay and put up a fight.
“Stony Brook University Hospital is dedicated to fostering a positive work environment where all employees are valued, supported, and respected,” an official at Stony Brook University Hospital said in an email to The Statesman. “On behalf of the community members for which we provide care, we are very grateful for the important work that our healthcare providers and other essential employees have put forth in response to the pandemic.”
Workers said that the hospital had rejected their requests for extra pay and one week vacation, and made offers with no pay and less time off.
“We should get something if it’s a little raise hazard pay. Something is better than nothing you know—and that’s what we’re fighting for today,” Roland said.
Stony Brook University Hospital has received money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. They also received a supplemental payment of $7.8 million for being a hotspot hospital.
“That’s a substantial amount of money and some of that could have gone to the employees to show that they’re valued,” Carolyn Kube, a lab technician and the president of the Stony Brook Health Sciences Chapter of the United University Professions (UUP) higher education union, said.
Kube expects that university administrators will reach out to the unions and negotiate a deal for crisis pay.
In an email to The Statesman, officials at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital said that they are in talks with 1199SEIU and that they value the skilled work of every member of their staff.
“Our primary concern has always been and continues to be, our employees’ safety as they provide the highest quality of care for our patients,” they said. “We work every day to foster a positive work environment where all employees are valued and respected.”
In June, front line workers also held rallies in both Greenport and Southampton. Among the protestors were members of the Civil Service Association Local 114, members of 1199SEIU, Public Employees Federation, the UUP and Stony Brook employees.
“Every other hospital gets COVID pay and we don’t get the pay, you know, and we work so hard over here,” Francian Mosquea, a worker in Stony Brook University Hospital’s housekeeping staff, said.
1199SEIU believes that all worker’s members deserve to be recognized as healthcare heroes as they fight and that are fighting to save other people’s lives, something that can potentially put their own families at risk.
“We got families to take care of just like the next, we got to make sure our safety is good, like our health and everything else and our family,” Roland said. “Hopefully our employees and a higher up look at us and look at everything that’s going on and see that we have a lot of people that’s backing us and supporting us through this.”