LAKEWOOD — “Look at that,” said Dora Poqui, nodding toward her television as it flashed a preview of the evening news. “Every time I see the news. $5.27 for gasoline. I know our pockets are going to be hurting this week.”

In fact, Poqui’s pockets hurt most weeks lately. Gone are the days when she and her husband thought they might save to buy a home. The pandemic has landed hard on them, and now they share an apartment in Lakewood with her mother, who was dozing in a reclining chair, and her granddaughter, who was holed up in one of the two bedrooms down the hall. Instead of a house, Poqui now saves for meat and cereal, for a family member’s funeral in Mexico and, as an in-home caregiver, for the cost of driving a car.

To read the full story on our member Dora Poqui, please visit The Seattle Times.

“I’m a nurse’s assistant at a nursing home in Renton. Our workforce has cared for our state’s elderly and sick on the front lines of this pandemic for two years now.

But because the nursing-home sector hasn’t had enough funding to pay us competitive wages, many have quit and short staffing is widespread. In my facility, daytime workers should have 10 individuals to take care of, but now regularly have 14 to 16. It’s not possible to truly care for residents when you have to work at a run.

I’m shocked that our state Senate’s proposed budget doesn’t include funding for nursing homes to increase workers’ wages. The proposed House budget includes a measure to give up to a $4-per-hour wage increase to bring workers back to our facilities. This would go a long way to solve our staffing crisis, but unfortunately the Senate has not yet joined the effort.

Nursing homes were underfunded, even before the pandemic. We are understaffed and overwhelmed, and without funding wage increases, residents are condemned to lower-quality care because enough people aren’t willing to work these jobs.

Long-term care workers are putting our lives on the line. Our legislators can and must do more.”

Linda Long, Kent

You can read the letter from SEIU 775 member Linda Long in The Seattle Times here.

“I’m a nurse’s assistant at a nursing home in Spokane. Despite serving our state’s elderly and sick on the front lines of this pandemic for two years now, nursing home workers haven’t received hazard pay.

We’ve worked long hours and are short-staffed. Many have quit. Burnt-out staff have been asked to come back to work a few days after a positive test if they were asymptomatic or feeling well enough, because there isn’t anyone to fill in for them. In 2020, we had a wave of COVID-19 cases, and both staff and residents got sick. Twenty-nine residents died before the end of the year, some of whom I’d cared for for over three years and considered family.

I am shocked that the proposed budget released by the state Senate does not include any funding for nursing home workers to receive up to a $4 per hour wage increase to help stabilize our workforce or funding to increase nursing home provider rates to keep up with rising costs.

Nursing homes were severely underfunded even before the pandemic. We are understaffed and overwhelmed, and without funding wage increases, we are condemned to struggle and burnout, and residents are condemned to lower-quality care because there aren’t enough people willing to work these jobs. We deserve compensation that would allow us to provide for ourselves and our families.

Long-term care workers are putting our lives on the line. Our legislators can and must do more.”

Cal Hilmo, Spokane

You can read the letter from SEIU 775 member Cal Hilmo in The Spokesman-Review here.

Seattle is back, though it’s not back to normal.

How does one define pre-pandemic normal? Heavy traffic? Loud, crowded restaurants? The day-to-day minutiae of a workplace?

Traffic has almost reached its previous aggravating volumes. Restaurants, bars and most everything else is open. Workers at some of the region’s largest employers are returning to their cubicles.

And yet, daily new coronavirus case counts in Washington remain in the thousands, according to the state Department of Health. About a fifth of the state’s hospital beds are occupied by patients who were admitted with COVID. People are still dying from virus complications.

The dichotomy of feeling hopeful as restrictions ease, while also grieving from the past 24 months, can be dizzying. More than 11,000 Washington residents have died, countless others are hurting from the loss of loved ones, of connections, of important milestones.

Two years ago this week, the first COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. were reported at Life Care Center of Kirkland, marking the Seattle area as the country’s initial epicenter.   

Long gone are the goals of “flattening the curve.” There will be no COVID victory march. Instead, experts say, Seattle is approaching a reopened life, with COVID.

To read more, please visit The Seattle Times.

At-home caregivers in Washington state have experienced a boost in wages to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, and a new campaign is urging lawmakers to make the pay increase permanent.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 775’s “Time for $20” campaign calls on lawmakers to raise hourly wages for workers who care for people in their homes and long-term care facilities in this year’s budget.

Julie Sparkman, a home-care aide who looks after children who mostly have underlying health conditions, was diagnosed with cancer last year.

“There was no time to put off what needed done and if it hadn’t been for hazard pay, I don’t know how I would have kept living indoors,” Sparkman recounted. “Honestly. I took every paycheck that I got and paid a month’s worth of rent because I knew I would be out of work for some time.”

Hazard pay put about an extra $3 per hour into caregivers’ pockets. The temporary increase was set to expire at the end of 2021 for individual providers, but SEIU Local 775 got it extended through March. With the session scheduled to end in March, state lawmakers are beginning to craft the budget.

Sparkman explained fortunately the cancer was caught in time, in what she called the best of a bad scenario, but her situation is not unique.

“I know that there are other people walking around right now in a scenario similar to that for whom immediate action will be the only thing that saves their lives,” Sparkman asserted.

Sparkman added workers needs to be at their best, so they can best care for the state’s most vulnerable population.

“It translates into safer clients, which is why our jobs exist in the first place,” Sparkman contended. “And if we can’t take care of ourselves, then how are we taking care of anyone else?”

To read more, please visit Public News Service.