Michigan workers claim they have to go to work sick.
Nursing home employee, Izella Hayes, 57, has been a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in the Detroit, Michigan, area for twenty-five years. A few month ago, she caught the stomach flu and suffered symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, and a fever. However, she was required by her employer to come to work due to limited sick days offered, so she, in turn, infected her patients. Hayes said, for that reason, she worries about an outbreak of the coronavirus, especially for state workers. “Employees had diarrhea, but we still had to come to work,” she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised employees to “stay home if sick to reduce the risk of contagion when it comes to COVID-19.” However, union members and health care workers in Michigan have responded that workers who don’t qualify for paid sick leave or have limited paid sick leave don’t really have a choice. They are disciplined for taking time above the allotted limit.
Parilee Hadden, 56 and also a CNA, said, “We try to come in to show that we are sick, but some of us still get penalized for going home early, because we don’t want to spread it to the elderly.”
Hayes was one of more than 100 union members and supporters picketing earlier this month for better wages, health care, and an end to excessive mandatory overtime for state workers outside of Imperial, a Villa Center nursing facility in Dearborn Heights.
“It’s a statewide problem putting nursing home patients at risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus,” said Andrea Acevedo, president of Service Employees International Union Healthcare Michigan. Adding that the COVID-19 affects seniors more significantly.
Acevedo added, “Michigan currently does not have any known cases of COVID-19, but current state labor laws are inadequate in protecting nursing home workers from the virus…Workers don’t have enough paid sick leave to even have the thought process of feeling like they don’t have to come into work every day. They’re working short-staffed, wages aren’t high enough and they don’t have the best health care, so they might not even go to a doctor if they experience symptoms because costs are so high.”
Under Michigan’s Paid Medical Leave Act, which went into effect March 2019, state employers are mandated to allow employees to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked, up to 40 hours per year. However, the new act only applies to businesses that employ fifty or more workers and some are exempt, including rail and flight workers and temporary employees. What’s more, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates approximately “a quarter of workers have no access to paid sick leave.”
Janice Senters, business office manager at Imperial Nursing Center in Dearborn Heights, said the facility is “following CDC measures” and is “very prepared for any kind of emergency that would take place in our facility.” She added, “Imperial Nursing Center will supply COVID-19 testing to its workers at no cost. We’re here to make sure workers and residents are protected.”
Hayes and other Imperial employees claimed they were unaware of any free testing, but said they signed company paperwork assuring their proper understanding of coronavirus prevention methods. Regardless of how prepared the nursing home is, Gisela Grant, a 60-year-old facility resident is worried. “I’m always catching something, and that corona thing is serious,” she said.