Frontline workers speak out

BY:Connecticut People’s World| May 18, 2020
Frontline workers speak out


The courageous stories of frontline workers tell much about the crisis all working people are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The stories below were among those shared during a May Day Rally hosted by Connecticut People’s World on Zoom. The uplifting rally included a slide show of worker solidarity around the world during this crisis, a call to action following each speaker, and a keynote by Steve Noffke, UAW Local 600 in Dearborn Michigan. View the entire rally here.

Jeanne Wehling, Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, AFT CT Local 5049

My name is Jeanne Wehling. I am a registered nurse. I have worked for the past eight years at L&M Hospital, which is part of the Yale New Haven Health System.  Today I join you as the Political Action liaison with AFT Local 5049. I have been elected in this role for the past four years.

This May Day couldn’t be occurring at a more poignant time. We watched COVID-19 come alive in Wuhan, China. This virus spread far and wide. We watched and listened to their cries for help as each person became infected and oh too many lost. This virus spread to almost 200 countries and islands. Yet the USA leads in the world in number of cases, over 1.1 million! We have lost over 67,000 Americans to this deadly virus. WHY? When we are the USA.

When the virus hit our shores and was no longer a “hoax,” we were unprepared. We did not have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE). Our Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lowered the classification of the virus from airborne to droplet. When you think “airborne” think of TB and tiny particles that with one cough or sneeze spread wide and far. “Droplet,” think of the flu larger particles that drop quickly. This one change put the lives of all Americans at risk.

What does the public hear? “Stay Home, Stay Safe.” “Quarantine for 14 days if anyone in your household shows symptoms” “This will flatten the curve and save lives!!!”

What did we do? Stay closed to essential business only, schools are now at home. We are working from home and educating our children at home. We are celebrating with Zoom parties and drive-by parades. We are calling our loved ones and not visiting for the fear that one visit can spread the virus and end their life.

I want to thank you all for doing your part. You truly are saving lives!!!

I wish I could say the same about us in the hospital. When we all apply to a position in a health-care industry we are all vowing to save lives. From the lowest job to the CEO and all in between. We in health care have taken an oath to do no harm. I have read the Nightingale Pledge in two different pinning ceremonies. It is the core of who we are as health-care professionals.

By the CDC changing the standard we are doing harm. We are spreading the virus! Before Covid-19, I applied a mask before entering the patient rooms and immediately discarded upon exiting. We were taught that wearing PPE protects not only the nurse [but also] other patients. We are keeping those germs with the infected patient only.

Currently now in the hospital, per the CDC and Department of Public Health, they have lowered those standards, putting not only the staff lives in harm’s way but also our patient’s lives. When the CDC lowered the standards the hospitals went directly to crisis mode [in terms] of PPE. They bypassed all the previous steps. All of the PPE and cleaning supplies were taken off the floors. Some stock was locked in the managers’ offices, the rest locked up at the warehouse. The manager is to leave out only enough for the next 24 hours at the nurses’ station. Typically, PPE is in a caddy on the door of the patients with precautions.

When this was first rolled out, we were given one level 1 mask (not rated for droplet precautions) to be used indefinitely. We have now moved up to one level 1 mask per shift. Sad to think that this is an improvement. N95 masks are only being used on our Covid floor, ICU, and ER. . . . We apply the mask at the beginning of our shift, taking it off to go home. That means if we come in contact with the virus, we are then bringing it into each of our rooms.

We are also no longer being told when a patient does test positive. 

My floor has not started taking Covid-positive patients yet, we anticipate that this week. However, we have had many patients moved to the Covid floor and ICU when they start to rapidly decline or show symptoms.

We are also no longer being told when a patient does test positive.  The hospital is running under the frame that all employees have already been exposed and do not need this information. Again, failing to do no harm! This also does not allow us to self-quarantine when exposed. We are not allowed to self-quarantine if a family member shows symptoms or becomes positive. Only if we the member show symptoms. With each exposure you are increasing your viral load and risk for infection.

More than six weeks ago, all three locals at L&M—RN’s 5049, TECH 5051, and Healthcare 5123—have asked to negotiate. The hospital ignored our requests until they wanted to mandate nurses [go] to Greenwich and then Bridgeport. We accepted their offer to bargain. We stood hard and firm with our members and their concerns regarding the mandate. The hospital backed down on the mandate portion only. We still have not come to a memorandum of understanding regarding adequate PPE, safety, incentive for this time of pandemic, workers compensation, paid time off, not using personal PTO and sick time and Family and Medical Leave Act.

We are working around the clock to keep our patients, our member, and the community safe..


Sign the petition to “Fund the Front Lines.” Make the billionaires pay their fair share.


Scott Marks II, Yale New Haven Hospital and New Haven Rising

I’m Scott Marks and I work at Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH) as an environment service associate.

Since the pandemic started, it’s been a trying time for me. I go to work everyday knowing that I have to clean Covid-19 rooms. At the peak of this crisis, I was part of a team who cleaned seven rooms per day. It’s stressful work because of so much gowning up and gowning down. But, ultimately, I know if I don’t clean the room properly it can cause the next person to be sick, or make me and my co-workers sick [and] bring [the virus] home to our families. Like everyone else in the hospital, my work has life-or-death consequences right now. This is a lot of stress for the money that I make.

I know some of you heard about YNHH giving out a Covid-19 Recognition Award, which is a payment of 5% of your earnings since the beginning of the calendar year. This came after 11,000 people signed a petition calling on the hospital to provide hazard pay. It was announced the same day that hospital leaders admitted that about 1,000 employees tested positive or had symptoms for Covid-19. 5% is not enough! For me, this means only an extra 85 cents for every hour I work. Yet we put our lives on the line everyday.

This isn’t just a problem at the hospital. This crisis shows that our economy cannot work without workers. My work saves lives. The same is true for other custodians, grocers, delivery drivers, receptionists, and many more. If the economy cannot work without us, we deserve to have pay that allows us and our families to live in dignity. We deserve to have access to health care. We deserve to have paid sick leave. We deserve to have pensions. We deserve to have protective equipment and workplace safety. Unfortunately, wealthy individuals and organizations ask us to go without these basic standards so that they can have even more.

Instead of treating workers with the dignity that we deserve, many corporations treat us as if we’re disposable. Right now, 32% of America is unemployed. Employers across the country are throwing people off their health care and pushing them into unemployment in the middle of a pandemic. Right here in New Haven, workers at the Omni Hotel are scared they are going to lose their health care at the end of the month. People should not have to live with this fear.

So, we’re stuck in a situation where the injustices of our country are laid bare. These injustices are breaking people and breaking communities. Black, Brown, and poor people are the ones who have less of a chance to work from home. There are more people getting sick in their neighborhoods. They are the ones who will experience the biggest costs due to this economic crisis. I have seen people in the hospital just give up after losing a loved one. I know others are going to be in a lot of pain with this economic crisis.

Everyone deserves a good job that can support their family during a pandemic.

But this is why we have to fight for something better. That’s why I fight as a New Haven Rising key leader for economic and social justice. I believe everyone deserves a good job that can support their family during a pandemic, but I know that we all have to work to win this justice. We still meet weekly to organize to keep the fight for the good jobs we’ve won. We can’t let large employers like Yale use this pandemic as an excuse to take our victories away from us. Instead, we need to move forward and we have to push organizations like Yale to fulfill their leadership roles in our city.

So I encourage everyone to attend the Budget Public Hearing For New Haven hosted by the Board of Alders Finance Committee on Zoom. We all need to make the case that the large and powerful institutions do their fair share in this moment.


Mario Franco, Connecticut Service Plaza Worker and SEIU, 32BJ

My name is Mario Franco. I worked at the McDonald’s at the Darien Northbound rest stop on I-95 for 26 years.

I am here today to talk about the situation at the rest stops. For one year, I helped my coworkers work with 32BJ to try to get better conditions. I lost my job, and the conditions now are terrible, but I want to continue fighting to make things better.



I had a tragedy at McDonald’s. My wife worked together with me for over 20 years. Four years ago, she passed out in the back room at the McDonald’s and hit her head. A few days later, she died in the hospital. McDonald’s paid for nothing, only the stone on her grave.

When I was working, most people only got minimum wage. We did not get holidays. Most people did not get vacation time. We worked on state property, but we did not get the benefits in the Standard Wage Law. The law says everybody is supposed to have five sick days a year. We had no sick days.

When you have low pay and no sick days, you have to come to work sick. You cannot afford to miss one day of work. Now, many people at McDonald’s are coming to work sick. I do not think they are cleaning and disinfecting properly. It is dangerous for my coworkers and it is dangerous for everyone who comes to the rest stop.

I was laid off with the entire night shift. Most of us on the night shift have many years of experience. The people who continue working do not. I think they laid off the experienced workers because we were protesting.

We are asking Governor Lamont to help us. He can make McDonald’s and other fast-food companies act better because they are on state property. We are asking for support with a petition. Many of my coworkers are single mothers. They have no income now. I am helping distribute food for them. I am still fighting. I thank you for all your support.

The petition calling on Governor Lamont to protect essential workers at Connecticut’s highway service plazas is here.

The petition demanding that Gov. Lamont create a disaster relief fund for our undocumented community is here.


Jahmal Henderson, Food Service at SCSU and Local 217 Unite Here

I’ve been employed as a food service worker at Southern Connecticut State University for 18 years. I’ve also been a union steward for eight years as a member of Local 217 Unite Here.

I am among those whose job is closed during these unfortunate times with the coronavirus epidemic having a devastating impact on our lives and country. Myself, and other food service workers throughout, are in solidarity with frontline essential workers who are putting their lives at risk in order to keep a sense of normalcy in these dire times.

We at Southern Connecticut State University Local 217 have a “phone tree” system which enables employees to get vital information and available resources to help them with unemployment, food banks, health care, and other emergency needs. In these times of social distancing, it is a very good time to stay in contact with each other via Zoom meetings, having daily check-ins and discussing strategies that can be helpful.

The majority of Unite Here members across the country are in the hospitality industry, and most of our members are now unemployed. The union is organizing to help with applications for unemployment, rent assistance, and basic living needs, and demanding that federal relief funds go to the workers and not big employers.

The union is also organizing so that hospitality/food service and all essential workers who are still employed during this epidemic, out there risking their lives, get the necessary resources from Congress and the state government to make sure proper PPEs and safety measures get established going forward so we can return back to healthy productive work environments.

Sign this petition to Congress: Don’t cut off hospitality workers!


The rally ended with two inspiring renditions of the Internationale:

Internationale with Cameron Orr

Internationale latinoamericana y caribena /Spanish and Portuguese CLATE

Image: SEIU and ULA.


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