Since schools closed across the state due to the coronavirus pandemic, local union presidents have spent hours on the phone every day to handle all kinds of questions. One question, however seems to have captured a moment that is becoming a movement.
Last weekend, Audrey Sullivan, a member of the West Seneca TA near Buffalo called her local prez to ask, “Can we help out my friend?”
Sullivan explained to WSTA President Joe Cantafio that she knows an emergency nurse at the regional Erie County Medical Center who is doing everything she can to stop the spread of the virus, but without adequate protective equipment.
Health care professionals are working long days and nights away from their families, while most of us are sheltered at home, she said, but they are not safe themselves.
They had an idea: If we can get in our closed school buildings, we could collect gloves and goggles and masks and get them to frontline heroes who need them.
Cantafio contacted the hospital to find out what is needed, contacted the district administration and called the local police to see how they could get it done.
By Monday at noon, they delivered 1,400 goggles, dozens of n95 masks, gloves and gowns and thousands of sanitizing wipes to clean the goggles.
“This is something tangible we can do to make a difference,” Cantafio said. “I’m hoping other local union presidents can get together with their superintendents and do the same thing.”
HOW CAN MY UNION HELP?
NYSUT Program Services has prepared guidance for local union leaders who want to collaborate with their district administration to help ease the equipment shortage for health care providers. It lists the kind of equipment needed and tips for the most efficient ways to collect and donate the materials to emergency health centers. It includes this helpful link to donation centers.
On the other side of the state in the Hudson Valley, Melissa Servant of the Wallkill TA is organizing a regional response in collaboration with state and county lawmakers and administrators from BOCES and local school districts.
“Teachers are creative out of the box thinkers,” she said. “A science teacher said they have gloves for science labs. That got us thinking, and organizing. We know there are supplies — in science rooms, in maintenance, in food service.”
Servant’s group of activists is asking local leaders to reach out to members to take inventory and list specific locations of supplies in the schools, then to ask the administration to send a person in to collect the materials.
“Teachers are desperate to help, but we need to get in the buildings,” Servant said. “We know this can be done, if we work together.”
Saranac TA President Michele Bushey gathered 1,100 gloves from her science lab and delivered them to her administration for donation to the local health center. She also contacted the governor’s office to see if it could reach out to all school superintendents, “as the sum of gloves potentially collected could be a tremendous help in protecting medical care providers.”
She said STA members, district staff and administrators are working every day to help keep health care professionals safe. Even students have contributed.
“These are unprecedented times and we want to support our medical community for all they are doing to save lives while putting themselves at greater risk in doing so,” she said.
NYSUT President Andy Pallotta this week called for members to go to the Member Action Center to tell the White House it must implement provisions of the Defense Production Act to ensure American workers can manufacture critically needed items in this time of crisis.
United University Professions, the NYSUT affiliate representing academic and professional faculty on SUNY state operated campuses, including the three SUNY hospitals, sees the crisis from both sides.
“What we have been doing is to ensure the proper protections are in place for everyone who is treating patients who have the COVID-19 disease,” said Fred Kowal, UUP president. “We have joined with our national affiliates and state and local leaders to demand that the federal government step up to provide our members with the protections that they need.”
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also called for a federal solution to the national shortage in supplies, including COVID-19 tests and protective equipment.
“There are no private or state solutions that are going to be sufficient to solve this,” she said. “We need the federal task force to actually deploy every asset in America to have this protective equipment made immediately.”
Anne Goldman, United Federation of Teachers vice president who chairs NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council, said, “We have to support each and every step for our staffing capacity. We have to honor the boundaries with this disease, and we need this to be the priority now.”