When I recently heard through my local union that a leader with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jim Frederick, was looking to talk to healthcare workers about their lived experiences with OSHA’s COVID workplace mandates, I jumped at the chance. I believe my perspective matters and after two years on the front line of the pandemic, I want to be heard.
My name is Gisella Thomas. I was born in Germany and in my early 20s, I moved to the States to be with my husband, an American soldier. 53 years later, we’re still married and we've raised six beautiful children.
I’ve dedicated my life to care work and have spent five decades in the healthcare industry. I’ve worked as a respiratory therapist in the ER of Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, California for the past decade.
When I sat down with other SEIU hospital and nursing home workers to share our stories with Mr. Frederick, I made it clear that I believe pandemic safety protocols should be reinstated by OSHA. Mr. Frederick listened intently to what I had to say.
Influential decision-makers often ask union members to share their experiences. They know our knowledge as working people is invaluable. United in our union, we have a seat at the table and a voice on the job. Whether it’s with policymakers or at our own facilities, speaking out is how we advocate for ourselves and spark change.
A few months ago, my union family and I made a critical change on the job. We were all facing a terrifying dilemma: how do we protect ourselves from COVID and avoid carrying it from the workplace home to our families? I’d have to alert everyone to go into their rooms and shut their doors before I entered my home. I used to remove my scrubs in my garage, and then run into the house and beeline it to the shower. It wasn’t dignified and it caused so much stress on top of the pressures we had at work.
So we went to management and proposed a solution: designate a changing room at the hospital, somewhere we could remove our scrubs (leaving them there to be properly disinfected) and change into our own clothes before traveling home. Because we banded together, management listened. This solution relieved us from some of the mental strain and anxiety, and having clearer, calmer minds allowed us to provide even better care to our patients.
As workers, we have the right to impact change in our workplaces. No matter where you work, or what kind of work you do, you deserve to have a seat at the table and a voice on the job.