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Front line workers demand Bannister Center provide hazard pay, PPE and safe staffing



My co-workers could be home – especially the ones that get paid nothing – they could be home collecting, but they still come to work.

Frontline healthcare workers and supporters held an “emergency caravan,” circling the Bannister Center nursing home in Providence on Thursday to call for more hazard pay, personal protective equipment (PPE), and safe staffing. During the present COVID-19 pandemic, these demands have taken on a more existential aspect.

The Emergency Caravan consisted of around 30 automobiles emblazoned with signs and honking their horns as the circled the facility. A similar protest took place outside the Arc of Blackstone Valley on Wednesday.

“We love our residents, so that’s why we all come to work,” said Nicole Jean-Gilles, an RN at Bannister Center. “My co-workers could be home – especially the ones that get paid nothing – they could be home collecting, but they still come to work. So I think there should be something also for the frontline staff that works.”

Jean-Gilles said that management at Bannister House told the workers that they don’t qualify for hazard pay, because so far no residents have tested positive for COVID-19. However, several workers in the facility have tested positive, including the person whose job it was to test people for COVID-19.

While she feels she has adequate personal protective equipment to do her job, Jean-Gilles said that not everyone who works at the facility does. Everybody who works at Bannister Center, including the cleaning staff, are frontline workers and deserve more pay and PPE.

Asked where the money should be coming from to pay the staff, Jean-Gilles was adamant. “The employer [should be paying us more] because without us, they don’t have anybody.”

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo disagrees. She said on Monday that businesses, who are struggling themselves, should not bear the cost of increasing employee pay. Instead, said the governor, the “best way to handle that, I believe, is for the federal government to provide them with a wage subsidy.”

State Senator Sam Bell (Democrat, District 5, Providence) wrote an oped for UpriseRI today partly blaming the situation at the nursing homes, where 76 percent of Rhode Island’s COVID-19 related deaths have occurred, on the “brutal” Medicaid cuts overseen by Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo and General Assembly leadership beginning in 2015.

Frontline Bannister Center workers

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Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.