May 22: Essential workers organizing for safety and respect

Dear MSEA-SEIU Member,

MSEA-SEIU members are demanding employers in our bargaining units recognize the sacrifice of workers being required to leave their homes for work during the Governor’s State of Civil Emergency now extended through June 11. Over the last two months members have been coming together to report concerns, circulate worksite petitions, make calls to legislators and even raise demands in the press. It has been working. From hazard pay to leave time, from personal protective equipment to worksite safety, members have been coming together to demand working conditions that allow us to protect and care for ourselves and our families during this COVID-19 emergency.

Hazard pay for the following groups of frontline or otherwise exposed Executive Branch workers:

Making leave time accessible for all: On April 2, the Mills administration announced its implementation of federal sick-leave law. However, the administration exempted thousands of state workers from the sick-leave law. MSEA-SEIU members quickly mobilized. Members spoke up in the press about the unfairness of being denied childcare leave during the COVID-19 emergency. In response the Mills administration on April 21 announced all employees whom it exempted from paid leave through the federal sick-leave law are authorized to take up to 80 hours of paid administrative leave if they’re unable to work or telework for certain reasons relating to COVID-19.

Leave for state employees during the COVID-19 emergency: Also last month, members secured an agreement with management that raises the contractual cap on state employees’ leave banks by 25 percent through 2020.

Workplace safety at Preble Street: The Preble Street Workers United contract team and management have been meeting weekly to resolve issues, navigate concerns and coordinate to make sure there are clear communications and workplace safety and access to PPE as well. They negotiated a $2 hour differential for all overnight staff, work from home for all staff in non-coverage programs and hazard pay of time-and-a-half for all hours worked in client coverage programs (shelters, resource center, the COVID-10 crisis shelters).

Stipends recognize the sacrifice of workers at Treats Fall House: Members who work for Treats Falls House, an intensive care facility in Orono for people with developmental disabilities, advocated and secured a biweekly stipend in support of the health and safety of patents and staff and to recognize the sacrifice of the workers during the Governor’s civil emergency. Effective March 30, the stipend is based on biweekly hours: 16-47 hours, $50; 48-71 hours, $75; 72-80 hours, $150; 84-99 hours, $250; and 100-120 hours, $400.

Members at Maine Maritime Academy secure a return-to-work policy prioritizing safety: All workers at Maine Maritime Academy remain in pay status. Members at Maine Maritime Academy pushed for and secured the establishment of a return to work policy that prioritizes safety and the ability to work from home.

Community College System workers making their voice heard: All adjuncts professors at the Maine Community College System have remained in pay status during the COVID-19 emergency and many have transitioned to working from home. In the MSEA-SEIU Support Services bargaining unit, members transitioned to work from home; those identified as essential and required to report to worksites are doing so.

Workers standing up together are holding employers accountable: This month, members at Green Valley Association delivered a petition signed by a supermajority of workers to demand hazard pay and take steps to make sure everyone is safe at work. Workers and management just reached a hazard pay agreement to provide $2.50 for hazard pay and management is now providing face shields for direct support workers who, for medical reasons, cannot wear masks.

Members are getting PPE to frontline workers: For the past month, chapter leaders, stewards and field staff have been teaming up to get PPE (personal protective equipment) to frontline workers required to leave their homes for work. When Preble Street’s order of masks was delayed, members made and distributed 150 bandana mask kits within 48 hours. Members ordered 1,500 bottles of hand sanitizer from Maine Craft Distilling in Portland and 1,000 #ProtectAllWorkers masks from American Roots in Westbrook for distribution in our worksites. The distribution has been a real team effort with MSEA-SEIU leaders stepping up. To be sure, members continue to demand employers meet their obligation and responsibility to provide you and your coworkers with the PPE you need to do your jobs.

A voice in planning for worksites reopening: As the COVID-19 crisis changes and employer responses continue to change, there will be many ways members will still need to be fighting for safe work places. As employers transition employees back to worksites or prepare to transition employees back to worksites, it is important that you and your coworkers have a seat at the table to ensure your worksites are safe, that you have the PPE you need, that any and all social-distancing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control are being followed, and that your sacrifice during this pandemic is being recognized by management.

Together with workers across the country, MSEA-SEIU members are demanding Congress provide funding to ensure state and local government services can continue during this pandemic. See my column in the Bangor Daily News, Congress should prioritize state, local services over tax breaks for the wealthy, corporations.

This COVID-19 crisis has been difficult for all of us. Some of us have experienced tremendous personal loss of family members, friends or colleagues, in Maine, across the nation, or around the globe. As we grieve for lost loved ones, let’s resolve to keep up the pressure demanding all employers treat essential workers with respect and care.

In Solidarity,
Dean Staffieri
President, MSEA-SEIU Local 1989

Updated: May 27, 2020 — 2:38 PM