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Frontline workers hold “emergency caravan” for hazard pay, PPE and safe staffing



We could be at home collecting unemployment, plus getting $600 a week, which, we don’t even make $600 a week without working overtime.

Direct support professionals caring for adults with developmental disabilities and supporters held an “emergency caravan,” circling Arc of Blackstone Valley in Pawtucket on Wednesday to call for more hazard pay, personal protective equipment (PPE), and safe staffing. The Emergency Caravan consisted of around 45 automobiles emblazoned with signs and honking their horns as the circled the facility.

“There’s a few people here that work that have asthma, they have elderly parents, they have children,” said said Monica Scott, who works as Direct Support Staff at Arc of Blackstone Valley, working with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. “We could be at home collecting unemployment, plus getting $600 a week, which, we don’t even make $600 a week without working overtime.”

Management offered frontline workers an additional $2 an hour in hazard pay, retroactive to April 13 – two days ago. “We’re being disrespected, basically. It’s like you don’t matter,” said Scott. “You don’t count… A lot of management are working from home. They’re not at the sites, working, doing what we do every day.”

If you could make more on unemployment, what keeps you coming in everyday, asked reporters.

“Because I love my job. I love my folks that I work with,” said Scott. “And I know: If I didn’t do it, who would do it? Who would be here?

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“We’re just trying to make noise, to make them understand that it’s just not right that we’re out here on the frontlines doing the job and we don’t feel valued as employees.”

Scott said that working conditions at her job are not terrible. “We have to come up with activities for folks every day, to keep them busy, to keep them not bored.

“I like being with them, because of lot of them can’t be with their family, because of the quarantine. They’re at home, in their apartments.”

“This is the SEIU,” said Pawtucket City Councilmember Meghan Kallman, “People in this union tend to be low income, they tend to be women, tend to be women of color – so the virus in this case is exposing existing inequalities in pay and working conditions.”

The protesters want three things:

  • Safe staffing, which is staffing levels appropriate to the needs within the facilities;
  • A supply of personal protective equipment (PPE); and
  • Hazard pay. Fair compensation for the work that is being done.

“Many of these folks make less than $15 an hour and that is not a lot of money to go to work every day and risk the lives of you and your family, which is essential work,” said Kallman. ” It’s God’s work.”

On April 7, Rhode Island Health and Human Services implemented a 10 pay rate increase to increase pay to frontline caregivers retroactive to April 1, 2020 during this crisis. Many nursing homes and at least one group home agency have still not implemented increases.

Meghan Kallman