On December 7, 2020, Joanna received a call from the management of the nursing home where she works every day as a care worker. They asked her to come in and help out, and she agreed — but she had no idea what was coming her way.
In her own words, “We never knew how many residents were already sick with COVID. We weren’t tested for COVID. So when I was leaving my house, I wasn’t really sure whether I contracted COVID myself or not.”
In fact, Joanna estimates that about a third of nursing home staff contracted the virus during the course of the pandemic.
Along with her colleagues, Joanna was forced into lockdown at the nursing home — not by government authorities, but by management staff who neglected to provide personal protective equipment, set health and safety protocols, compensate workers for the long hours spent working in dangerous conditions away from their families or even ensure that they had beds or bathrooms at the nursing home.
In the face of these circumstances, Joanna knew, “We had to do something. We had to organize.” Joanna and her colleagues were worried about the risks of speaking up — worried they would be reprimanded or lose their jobs. But they “didn’t want to be afraid anymore.”
Joanna and her fellow workers stood together to confront management. Joanna remembers, “Nobody wanted to listen to us. Nobody wanted to talk to us without the unions.” And, united and organized, the workers were finally able to get management’s attention about the human rights violations taking place in the nursing home. Joanna and her colleagues were able to secure folding beds and access to an adequate bathroom for nursing home staff. They know their victory is important not only because of what it achieved for workers today but because they know their colleagues will have better working conditions for the future.
“Don’t be afraid,” Joanna says. “Unite, fight for yourselves. If you look out for each other, you will be able to better look after your clients and other people…we are people. And a force to be reckoned with.”