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Health, Science, Environment

St. Louis Nursing Home Workers Demand Paid Sick Leave If They Catch Coronavirus

SEIU Healthcare members rallying to support nursing home workers who want paid sick leave at Grand Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation in north St. Louis on May 4, 2020.
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio
Members of SEIU Healthcare, a union that represents nursing home workers in Missouri, rallied at Grand Manor Nursing & Rehab in north St. Louis to support workers who want paid sick leave.

Every day that Michael Howard reports to work at Grand Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation in north St. Louis, he’s terrified that he will catch the coronavirus. 

Howard is among many St. Louis-area nursing home workers who want their employers to provide sick leave if they become infected. 

“If you get sick and you’re not getting paid for being sick, you know what I mean, that’s scary because you’re the sole breadwinner,” he said. 

Unionized nursing home workers at Grand Manor and Northview Village want paid sick leave and hazard pay for all workers. Not everyone is receiving hazard pay, said Lenny Jones, vice president of SEIU Healthcare, which represents workers at the two facilities.

“Everybody’s job is important. Everybody’s taking a risk to do this work, not just ones who are caring for COVID-19 patients,” Jones said. 

Howard, 61, has been a certified nursing assistant at Grand Manor for more than 20 years. He receives an additional $10 an hour in hazard pay, but it’s only because he works directly with residents who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus. Other workers do not receive hazard pay, he said. 

“Every time you get a little sneeze or you get a little sniffle, you’re just scared to death. From what I can see of this virus, it just overwhelms you all of a sudden,” Howard said. 

Howard is also worried that the virus could make him very ill because has a heart condition. Receiving paid sick leave is necessary if he becomes infected, he said. 

Shannan Craft, director of nursing at Grand Manor, declined to provide the number of residents who have tested positive for the coronavirus, citing patient privacy laws. She also did not want to comment on whether employees should receive paid sick leave if they become infected. Makhlouf Suissa, who owns Grand Manor and Northview Village, also declined to comment. 

In March, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which required employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees if they have symptoms of the coronavirus or have to take care of a family member who has the virus. But nursing home workers and other health care workers are exempt from that, Jones said. 

“We are putting pressure on employers to get that benefit,” Jones said. “A lot of workers are told, ‘You have to use your accruals.’ Some don’t have adequate accruals of paid time off. Some go through them quickly and are left with nothing.” 

The employees’ fears about becoming sick have heightened since the death of a certified medication technician at Grand Manor last month due to the coronavirus. Cynthia Whitfield, 58, died on April 21. Whifield had worked there for about 15 years, Howard said. 

“It’s sad, but these are the type of things that this virus has done,” he said. “Everyone’s unraveled. Everyone’s confused and worried about their safety.”

Follow Eli on Twitter: @StoriesByEli

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