Covid-19 Healthcare Workers Bill of Rights outlines reforms to protect caregivers

NewsApril 21, 2020

California’s healthcare workers are meeting the challenge of caring for patients with COVID-19, but many of their employers are failing to keep workers safe during the pandemic. As of Monday, 3,584 healthcare workers had tested positive for the coronavirus — accounting for nearly 12 percent of all cases in California, according to the California Department of Public Health.

After gathering input from its 15,000 members across California and consulting with public health experts, the National Union of Healthcare Workers has produced a COVID-19 Healthcare Workers Bill of Rights. The document outlines 10 mandates — from guaranteeing PPE to ensuring whistle-blower protection for caregivers —that must be universally implemented to keep healthcare workers safe now and during future pandemics.

NUHW’s Bill of Rights is a distillation of a more comprehensive policy document (English, Spanish) that outlines the minimum precautions and protocols that we believe must be put in place to keep healthcare workers safe.

“Our healthcare system has failed us,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “After decades of profit-driven downsizing, the healthcare industry has been unable to adequately care for patients or protect healthcare workers during this crisis. Our Bill of Rights is a challenge to healthcare providers and government officials to immediately pass legislation and draft regulations to make sure we are ready for the next pandemic.”

In addition to calls for sufficient PPE and universal access to COVID-19 testing, the Bill of Rights calls on healthcare companies to provide employees with thorough infectious disease training, implement social distancing measures throughout their facilities, allow professionals such as mental health therapists to work-from-home, provide temporary housing to frontline caregivers, prohibit any form of retaliation against employees who speak publicly about conditions inside workplaces and guarantee additional time off for workers who either contracted COVID-19 or who must care for an infected family member.

“We won’t let 3,000 more healthcare workers be unnecessarily exposed to a potentially fatal virus,” Rosselli said. “Healthcare workers across California need their employers to take immediate action to limit their risk of becoming infected.”

NUHW members, who include nurses, medical technicians, respiratory therapists, mental health therapists, food service workers and housekeepers, report significant challenges obtaining PPE, receiving training and getting assistance in doing certain work remotely.

At one hospital, members report that during surgeries, doctors have been given N95 masks, while nurses and other workers have been forced to wear standard surgical masks. At another hospital, food service workers had to fight to be able to wear N95 masks when delivering food to patients that had tested positive COVID-19. And Kaiser Permanente is continuing to force half of its 1,800 mental health therapists in Southern California to gather together in clinics to do telephone appointments instead of letting them do those appointments from their homes.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is a member-driven democratic union that represents 15,000 healthcare workers throughout California and Hawaii.