During a hearing in front of the House Democratic Policy Committee, workers described Monday the perils of working through the coronavirus pandemic. The hearing comes months after COVID-19 shuttered businesses and locked down the state.
The speakers who presented their concerns were in different types of positions, from unemployment claims processors to security guards and nursing home aides. Their concerns were reported by The Pennsylvania Capital-Star.
The problems workers described ranged from spending their own wages on protective equipment, a lack of paid time off to enforcement dead ends on state health orders.
“While many of the people followed the governor’s order to shelter in place, we worked,” Eve Carlton, a Philadelphia security officer, said.
Carlton, also pointed out that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on African-American and brown workers. Women are also more frequently among the ranks of frontline workers. While they make up about 47 percent of the labor force, female employees are 52 percent of all essential workers.
Department of Health spokesperson Nate Wardle said that the department has so far received 60,000 complaints against businesses accused of violating health policies.
“We continue to work to educate businesses on why the current orders are in place, and take action when neces According to State Police data, the department has issued 55 warnings and no citations for violating Wolf’s health measures, such as mandatory masks in businesses, since April 19,” Wardle said.
Steve Catanese, Service Employees International Union Local 668 president said health protections for public sector workers are a blind spot. His union represents thousands of state and county human service employees who process SNAP or Medicaid benefits, among other tasks.
Earlier in the pandemic, many of the unions’ members said they were sent back to work in unsafe conditions, without PPE, and with unclear standards for sick leave.
But unlike private employers, who are covered by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, public sector workers in Pennsylvania have no workplace protections.
“When a lot of our public workforce, which was essential, were attempting to get basic protections during the coronavirus, they were asking for things like OSHA-level protection, without an actual legal right to it,” Catanese said.
He asked for lawmakers to “take bold risks” , from universal health care to expanded hazard pay, so service workers, already economically at-risk before COVID-19, are not forced to tread water after the pandemic.