Leaders offered a moving tribute to our Union: “There is a huge difference between having a strong union and workers who are left to fend for themselves.”
(April 22, 2022, Philadelphia) – Two extraordinary leaders from Saunders House nursing home in west Philadelphia, Cyrell Green, a Laundry Aide, and Tisheia Frazier, a CNA, spoke at the Philaposh Memorial event that honors workers who died on the job.
(We pasted their full speeches below).
The two leaders spoke about the trauma working at a nursing home throughout the COVID-19 pandemic which is still ongoing.
Cyrell Green thought about leaving constantly for fear she would get sick and potentially harm her loved ones. “I stayed [and did my job] because I care so deeply about my residents and my fellow caregivers.”
Green said that poverty-level wages and the crisis of short staffing – which pre-dated the pandemic – are risking the collapse of the long term system and hollowing out the workforce. She said urgent action and major investments must be made to retain and rebuild the caregiving workforce which is fleeing for higher pay in fast food and big box retailers.
Tisheia Frazier gave an eloquent speech thanking our union, our organizers who worked intensely to stay in close touch because facilities were locked down, and fellow essential workers who all banded together during the pandemic to support each other.
“I felt like I couldn’t abandon my co-workers who were sacrificing their lives in a WAR against the virus. That’s how it felt at the time. But even while you’re walking through hell you will meet angels and receive blessings….This is why I am so grateful to be a proud member of our Union,” Frazier said.
Statement: Cyrell Green
My name is Cyrell Green and I’m honored to be here with my co-worker Tisheia. I’ve worked as a laundry aide at Saunders House nursing home for 15-years.
I am here to honor ALL of the essential healthcare workers who continue to serve during this pandemic.
I am the only laundry aide on my shift at my facility and the workload is just unbelievable.
I have stayed on because I care so deeply about my residents and my fellow caregivers.
At the start of the pandemic we were given ONE mask and told to make it last for an entire week because there just weren’t enough masks to go around, nor any PPE.
Almost all of our residents got COVID and became sick.
We lost around 40 to 50 residents whom we loved and cared for like they were our own family.
As a laundry aide I would leave my area and check-in on our residents and assist my CNAs.
If we saw a pillowcase over a resident’s face we knew they had passed away.
Virtually all of our fellow caregivers and workers got sick.
One co-worker tested positive and wound up passing COVID on to his wife who later died.
Another coworker was put on a ventilator for weeks. He thankfully recovered, but still bears the scars.
When workers came back from our quarantines we were given “cupcakes” with little notes that called us “heroes.”
But we weren’t given any hazard pay, or more staffing to relieve all the stress and pain.
In fact, short-staffing is at a crisis level where workers simply don’t want to serve in healthcare because they can make far more money at fast food or Target.
I say all of this to remind everyone that this pandemic is not over.
We STILL have a lot of work to do to recover from COVID, protect workers on the job, and transform the industry.
“It’s time we invest in our essential workers – many of whom look like me and come from communities of color. I have worked at Saunders House for 15 years and I earn $16.50 an hour. Poverty-level wages and the short-staffing crisis pre-date COVID. But the pandemic exposed just how broken the nursing home system really is – and its greed.”
Worker safety must become a top priority for lawmakers. We must be better prepared for the pandemic so that essential caregivers are never put in such risk at our jobs ever again.
Statement: Tisheia Frazier
My friend Cyrell just laid out the enduring problem and crises from the pandemic. I’m going to tell you about some of the positive responses.
My name is Tisheia Frazier and I’ve worked as a CNA at Saunders House for 10-years.
My third child, my son, was born in September 2019 – six months before the pandemic struck.
I was told by my friends and family to quit because of the risk to myself and my family. But I couldn’t leave behind the residents whom I became so close to and loved.
I felt like I couldn’t abandon my co-workers who were sacrificing their lives in a WAR against the virus. That’s how it felt at the time.
But even while you’re walking through hell you will meet angels and receive blessings.
My fellow workers banded together and supported each other during the most trying times of our lives.
Our union – SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania – showed up and together when we absolutely needed it when we were at our lowest point.
Our Union delivered us masks when even our own facility claimed none were available, or had to be rationed.
Our union organizers and leaders stayed in constant touch and were available just to listen to what we were going through.
Our union brought in grief counselors for us.
Our union helped us navigate the crazy system to schedule our vaccine shots.
They held zoom meetings and trainings to educate members about the safety of the COVID vaccines.
When workers were forced to quarantine – which meant losing wages and unable to pay for rent, and food – our SEIU Union provided $500 in emergency funds to help.
This is why I am so grateful to be a proud member of our Union – and why I’m honored to serve as our chapter’s Vice-President.
Yes, there is a huge difference between having a strong union and workers who are left to fend for themselves.
And like Cyrell said, worker safety, in all its many forms, MUST become a top priority for policymakers.
But that’s not all. Giving all workers the right and ability to join a union must also be given the same importance!
That’s why we push our bold vision of: “Unions for All” because we know that having a strong union is critical for the health and safety for all workers.
Having a union allows us to better advocate for what we need and what we demand – which is to be safe, protected, and respected on the job.
Thank you for inviting us to speak — and thank you for your leadership.