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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 5, 2020
Contact: Melissa Moriarty 603-505-7135
COVID-19 Survey Reveals Urgent Need for NH Public Employees
SEA/SEIU Local 1984 releases demands for critical needs for workers including increased job-safety measures, hazard pay, fair treatment, COVID-19 testing and more.
CONCORD, N.H. – New Hampshire’s public employees have united around essential demands needed for Granite Staters to remain protected during this COVID-19 crisis based on a survey of nearly 2,000 respondents conducted by SEA/SEIU Local 1984. The survey also prompted workers to share their struggles during this pandemic, which revealed the urgent need for access to expanded leave to care for children and dependents, a state contract with wage adjustments to recognize the vital work that state employees are doing, telework options for all employees who have remote-capable jobs, and hazard pay for all frontline workers who risk their lives every day.
Public workers from municipalities, counties, and the state expressed both a resolve to continue serving their communities and a strong desire for change and for their voices to be heard.
“It does sadden me to know that once again state employees are treated very differently,” said Brenda Thomas, an employee at the Department of Administrative Services. “But state employees always shine under pressure. That is what we do.”
These union members provide some of the most essential services that affect every town and city, covering a wide range of jobs including processing record numbers of unemployment claims, caring for the state’s most vulnerable children, working in institutions such as prisons and public hospitals, serving our veterans, and maintaining our roads, among many other work that are necessary for New Hampshire to function.
“Public workers are central to why New Hampshire has been resilient during this crisis. Their jobs have allowed us to get through this pandemic.” Rich Gulla, SEA/SEIU Local 1984 president. “For them to continue to support our community, the state of New Hampshire must support them and address their concerns about safety, and resources. This is why today, we have released eight critical demands that are vital for our state to function.”
The detailed demands can be found here, and include the need for:
- A consistent approach to how public employees are treated across work sites
- A state contract with the wage adjustments, as prescribed by a neutral third party
- Protective gear for employees who interact with the public
- Necessary cleaning staff to ensure worksites limit the spread of COVID-19
- Testing for all employees at no cost
- A public response plan ready to implement immediately in the face of a future crisis
- Expanded leave to care for dependents and children
- Same benefits from federal and state legislation that the rest of the population receives
Over the last few weeks, more than 100,000 workers in New Hampshire have filed for unemployment, inundating the workers at the Department of Employment Security and exacerbating the staffing shortages already in place. Workers like Lura Seavey, who are willing to work, but have to care for family at home, represent the 14% of respondents who felt frustrated that their work from home requests were being unreasonably denied.
“There are employees like myself, who are home for health or childcare reasons and desperately want to work, but have been denied [requests to work from home],” said Lura Seavey, an employee from Employment Security — one of the agencies that has been hit the hardest with staffing shortages. “We are sitting home idly while we could be helping get NH residents the help they need. It deeply saddens me that those in charge of these decisions are preventing us from doing our jobs while claims go unprocessed, and the rest of the staff has to work endless hours in the office.”
While several tons of personal protection equipment (PPE) has arrived in the past few weeks, the use of PPE is still not consistently regulated and enforced across state agencies. This inconsistency has left many workers worried about their safety, as about 17% of respondents do not feel that their employer has taken the needed precautionary measures to limit their exposure to COVID-19.
“I have suffered a couple of really bad anxiety attacks, and nightmares just from being so scared to contract COVID-19,” said Heatha Coville, an employee from the Department of Health and Human Services. “I already live paycheck to paycheck, and now I had to stock up. My biggest fear is going back to work in the building and not knowing if it is safe or not.”
Without safety and preventative measures enacted for public workers, the communities they serve will suffer and fall victim to the same problems that other states have faced during this pandemic.
About SEA/SEIU Local 1984
SEA/SEIU Local 1984 represents over 8,000 public and private-sector employees across the Granite State. First formed in 1940 as a social organization, the SEA won passage of New Hampshire’s Public Employee Labor Relations Law in 1975. Since then, the union has negotiated hundreds of contracts with state, county, municipal and private-sector employers. The SEA affiliated with the Service Employees’ International Union in 1984. With 2 million members, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in the Americas.