New sector-specific training helps District 12 health care workers promote health and safety

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed many of the vulnerabilities health care workers faced long before the spring of 2020, from workplace violence to a lack of essential supplies to short staffing.

Now, USW health care workers are organizing and mobilizing their colleagues to protect their own health and safety and promote solidarity and union power.

To support these front-line workers, the union launched a pilot program in District 12 focused on improving health and safety outcomes for the thousands of essential workers in the health care sector.

“Health care seems like such a simple concept, but so much comes with it,” said Melissa Borgia, a full-time grievance representative for Local 7600 and the District 12 Health Care Workers Council Coordinator. “Everyone’s work is so different, so when you talk about things like health and safety, it can mean something different depending on what department you’re in or what kind of facility you work at.”

One of the goals of this new program is to improve connections between workers to talk about common issues and learn from each other.

The union’s Health and Safety Department, along with the Tony Mazzocchi Center, adapted curriculum for a one-day training focused on health care using grant funding from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Worker Training Program.

The pilot program began in Southern California on Oct. 3 and included thirty health care workers in a wide variety of job classes, from paramedics, nurses and mobility techs to Emergency Department financial counselors, housekeeping, and nutrition service workers.

USW Health Care Workers Council Coordinator Tamara Lefcowitz said much of the conversation during this first training was focused on breaking down the many ways health care managers have failed the very workers they count on every day.

“The question to injured workers is always: What could you have done differently?” Lefcowitz said. “The right question is: What does management need to do to better protect you?”

Members at the training were also joined by USW Vice President of Human Affairs Kevin Mapp and USW District 12 Director Gaylan Prescott.

“We know how to build a smart, activist-powered safety culture,” said Prescott. “We’ve done it in every industry where we made the effort. Health care workers deserve the same focused initiative and education.”

Several health care members of District 12 have also participated in the Tony Mazzocchi Center’s training fundamentals program with the goal of these workers assisting trainers in upcoming workshops.

“This is a larger effort to raise the bar on health and safety for the entire sector,” said Vice President Mapp. “It’s our job as a union to reimagine what health care looks like for everyone.”

The pilot program’s next meeting will be held in Northern California on November 7.

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