On March 4, 2020, Governor Newsom declared a State of Emergency in California as a result of the threat of the COVID-19 virus. Since then, SEIU Local 2015 and our 400,000 members have been working on the frontlines of this crisis to protect our most vulnerable populations; our seniors and those living with disabilities. At Local 2015, we believe that all frontline workers, particularly those in the long term care and health care settings, have RIGHTS:

  • The right to SAFETY through access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) 
  • The right to TRAINING to deal with a global pandemic 
  • The right to FAIR COMPENSATION for the heroic work they are doing
  • The right to ADVOCATE as part of their union for job and community standards
  • The right to KNOW what state and federal policies impact their work, their lives and their communities

During this time of uncertainty, there are many questions being asked. Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions coming to the union from the members of Local 2015. 

1. If a resident is exhibiting most of the symptoms, will a test be conducted to ensure they are not infected with the virus? [Right to Know]

Tests are currently being prioritized for to those who are sick, showing symptoms or otherwise in the highest risk categories for contracting COVID-19, this includes symptomatic residents and potentially exposed residents to ensure they are immediately isolated. Facilities are also required to report suspected cases to the Local Health Department, and suspected cases should immediately be triaged into an enclosed room. The health department should be notified about residents with severe respiratory infection, or a cluster (e.g., more than 3 residents or healthcare personnel with new-onset respiratory symptoms over 72 hours) of residents or healthcare personnel with symptoms of respiratory infections.

2. If a resident has tested positive for the virus, will they be moved to a hospital? [Right to Know]

Residents with known or suspected COVID-19 do not need to be placed into an airborne infection isolation room (AIIR) but should ideally be placed in a private room with their own bathroom. Based on their condition and whether they need a higher level of care, the resident may be transferred to a hospital.

3. I’m afraid that I may have been exposed to COVID-19 and am exhibiting symptoms (like fever) – what should I do? [Safety]

If you develop fever or symptoms of respiratory infection while at work, you should immediately put on a facemask, inform your supervisor, and leave the workplace. Employees should check for any signs of illness before reporting to work each day and notify their supervisor if they become ill. Reach out to your healthcare provider to see if you can arrange a time to get checked-out or tested if you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

4. If a nursing home worker is asked to self-isolate, what should they do? [Safety]

If you have been given a personal medical directive to self-isolate, let your employer know that you will not be able to report for work. Your employer’s sick leave policies should be non-punitive, flexible, and consistent with public health guidance at this time. You may be eligible for paid leave in the form of sick time: what you are contractually entitled to. If you’re unable to work due to having or being exposed to COVID-19 (certified by a medical professional), you can file a Disability Insurance (DI) claim. If your employer has reduced your hours or shut down operations due to COVID-19, you can file an Unemployment Insurance (UI) claim. Visit edd.ca.gov to file a claim.

The state of California is offering hotel vouchers for health care workers who are exposed to or have tested positive to COVID-19. To be eligible to for the program participants must: (1) work at a healthcare facility in California; (2) have been exposed to patients or individuals who may have COVID-19 documented by a state or county public health official or medical professional; or (3) not have the ability to self-isolate or quarantine at home. To apply for a hotel room, call: 1-877-454-8785. More information is available at this website, along with updates on participating hotels: caltravelstore.com/ca-healthcare-workers-lodging

Otherwise, nursing home workers are considered essential employees and may travel for the purposes of their work while shelter-in-place orders are still active.

5. How can nursing home staff get a COVID-19 test WITHOUT having any symptoms as a preventative measure to make sure they are not carrying the virus? [Safety]

The first recommendation is to call your healthcare provider.

For additional testing resources outside of directly contacting your healthcare provider, California has partnered with Verily’s Project Baseline to launch a community COVID-19 testing program to expand screening and testing for high-risk individuals in certain areas of the state.\r\n\r\nHigh-risk individuals located in Santa Clara or San Mateo counties, or within 50 miles of the cities of Riverside or Sacramento, can complete the screener at projectbaseline.com/study/covid-19/ to see if they qualify for testing through this program. Potential participants need internet access and a Google account.

If  you don’t have health insurance and need screening or treatment for COVID- 19:

For tips on how best to protect yourself and others, as well as ongoing updates about COVID-19 in the state, please visit: cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Immunization/ncov2019.aspx

6. How will the state help facilities obtain supplies? [Right to Know]

A facility that is facing a shortage of respirators, N95 or other supplies may reach out to the Medical Health Operational Area Coordinator. The regional agency contacts are listed here: emsa.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/71/2020/04/MHOAC-Contact-List-04102020-Public.pdf

7. My employer is prohibiting wearing gloves, masks, or other types of protective equipment. [Right to Know]

Your employer should be prioritizing use of PPE for procedures with the highest potential exposures, such as splash, spray or aerosol generating procedures, prolonged face-to-face contact with a potentially infectious patient, or high-contact patient care activities that provide opportunities for transfer of pathogens to the hands and clothing of HCP. Since there are shortages, the guidance on PPE is currently flexible, to prioritize the use of respirators for aerosol generating procedures. If there are anticipated shortages of facemasks, facemasks should be prioritized for healthcare personnel and then for patients with symptoms of COVID-19 (as supply allows).

If your employer has a shortage of N-95 masks, they should make use of alternatives, including powered air-purifying respirators (PAPRs), other classes of disposable FFRs, elastomeric half-mask, and full face piece air-purifying respirators where feasible. Cloth face coverings should NOT be worn instead of a respirator or facemask if more than source control is required. You may be instructed to re-use PPE throughout your shift. PPE should be provided to you at no cost.

An employer who is not implementing standards of care (ineffective room ventilation, failure to provide respirators, failure to follow up on employee exposure, etc.) may be reported to the local health department or Cal/OSHA for investigation. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is directing much of its staffing resources at the time to ensure that facilities are complying with COVID-19 directives and not jeopardizing the health of residents.

Online: cdph.ca.gov/programs/chcq/lcp/calhealthfind/Pages/Home.aspx
Phone: (916) 552-8780
Fax: (916) 552-8777

Mail: Professional Certification Branch/NHAP Complaints PO Box 997416, MS 3302 Sacramento, CA  95899-7416

Email: NHAP@cdph.ca.gov

Cal/OSHA district offices: www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/districtoffices.htm

8. Can my employer terminate me for refusing to do work without PPE?

Under OSHA regulations, a worker has a right to refuse work in dangerous circumstances (that pose an imminent threat to safety or life) if certain conditions are met or if there is a clause in the union contract that otherwise preserves that right.

Your right to refuse to do a task is protected if all of the following conditions are met:

  • Where possible, you have asked the employer to eliminate the danger, and the employer failed to do so; and
  • You refused to work in “good faith”. This means that you must genuinely believe that an imminent danger exists; and
  • A reasonable person would agree that there is a real danger of death or serious injury; and
  • There isn’t enough time, due to the urgency of the hazard, to get it corrected through regular enforcement channels, such as requesting an OSHA inspection.

You should take the following steps:

  • Ask your employer to correct the hazard, or to assign other work;
  • Tell your employer that you can’t safely perform the work unless and until the hazard is corrected; and
  • Remain at the worksite until ordered to leave by your employer.
  • Document the conversation with your employer and contact your union steward, organizer or call the Member Action Center at 1-855-810-2015 for assistance.

Filing Complaints

It is illegal for the employer to retaliate if the conditions above are met. If the employer retaliates against the worker for refusing to perform the dangerous work, contact OSHA. Complaints of retaliation must be made to OSHA within 30 days of the alleged reprisal. To contact OSHA call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and ask to be connected to your closest area office.

Additionally, the California Labor Commissioner may be able to recover wages owed to you and help you get your job back. They can be reached at www.dir.ca.gov/dlse, link to “Contact Us.” By phone, call 1-866-924-9757, press or say “1” for the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, then enter or say your zip code.

9. Will certification requirements impact my ability to work as a CNA during this time? [Right to Know]

If you are enrolled in an approved certification training program, you may continue to be employed throughout the declared emergency for more than 3 months after the start date of employment. You may delay completion of the training program and competency testing until after the end of the declared emergency.

All CNAs in an active status are encouraged to renew following normal timelines.

CNA whose certification expired within the previous 2 years, or whose certification will expire during the state of emergency, may work as a CNA for the duration of the declared emergency without renewal.

Due to the current inability to obtain Live Scan services, nurse assistants seeking initial certification or applicants seeking certification through reciprocity or equivalency, will not be required to submit proof of Live Scan completion until as soon as practicable but no later than 30 days after the expiration of the state of emergency.

CNA must notify CDPH of a change of address as soon as practicable, but no later than 30 days after the expiration of the state of emergency.

10. What paid sick leave options are available during this time? [Advocacy]

Currently, nursing home workers have access to whatever paid sick leave is guaranteed by their contract. SEIU Local 2015 continues to fight at both the state and federal level to advocate for extended Federal paid sick leave for Nursing Home workers.

11. Am I entitled to hazard pay? [Advocacy]

As a result of the partnership between SEIU Local 2015 and Governor Newsom’s office, on April 10th, the Governor announced that California will be providing stipends to certified nurse assistants, licensed vocational nurses and other critical staff at nursing homes. $500 stipends will be released to up to 50,000 nursing home workers.

To apply for the stipend, visit: heroawards.oshpd.ca.gov/

In addition to the $500 stipend, SEIU Local 2015 continues to fight at both at the state and federal level to advocate for pay differentials, also known as “hazard pay” or “pandemic pay”, for workers in Skilled Nursing Facilities.

12. I have pre-existing conditions and am concerned about reporting to work and contracting COVID-19. What can I do? [Safety]

You may be eligible to apply for disability leave. To be eligible for Disability Insurance (DI) benefits, you must submit certain medical documentation. This requirement can be met by a medical certification signed by a treating physician or a practitioner that includes a diagnosis and ICD-10 code, or if no diagnosis has been obtained, a statement of symptoms; the start date of the condition; its probable duration; and the treating physician’s or practitioner’s license number or facility information.

13. How do I get assistance with filing for Unemployment benefits? [Right to Know]

The Employment Development Department (EDD) is providing assistance with unemployment claims. Please visit edd.ca.gov to file a claim or get more information. The state is asking people to apply even if they are in doubt that they might qualify – they will verify your eligibility.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides enhanced unemployment benefits in addition to the state’s benefits, including an additional $600 per week for up to 4 months.

14. If I work more than one job, can an employer threaten to terminate me if I continue working multiple jobs? [Right to know]

No. While everyone is working to slow down and ultimately eliminate the spread of COVID-19, a worker cannot be terminated from employment based on the fact that they work more than one job.

15. I lost my second job due to COVID-19. Are nursing home workers eligible for unemployment, if they stop working for one of their jobs but not all? [Fair Compensation]

This may qualify as a reduction in hours for purposes of unemployment if the loss of work was due to COVID-19. Please visit edd.ca.gov for more information.

16. How much is the federal stimulus check, and who is eligible? Will I qualify if I didn’t file taxes in 2018 or 2019? [Fair Compensation] 

The recovery rebates are being treated as advanced refunds of a 2020 tax credit. Individuals will receive a tax credit of $1200 (joint filers, $2400), plus $500 for each qualifying child. The tax credit begins to phase out for taxpayers with an adjusted gross income above $150,000 for joint filers, $112,500 for head of households, and $75,000 for other individuals.

The recovery rebate is not available to “nonresident aliens,” individuals who are claimed as a dependent by another, estates, and trusts. If the taxpayer has yet to pay 2019 taxes, then the 2018 tax filing will be used for recovery rebate allotment. Those with no income and whose income comes entirely from non-taxable means-tested benefit programs are also included within this rebate. Live-in providers who don’t file taxes and those on SSI fall under the “income comes entirely from non-taxable means-tested benefit programs.” Their income will be based on information from any of the following: 2019 Form SSA-1099, Social Security Benefit Statement, Form RRB-1099, or Social Security Equivalent Benefit Statement.

17. What does a nursing home worker do if they can’t pay their rent or mortgage during this time? [Advocacy]

You may be eligible for some types of relief if the following applies to you:

Rent: If you are a tenant who has paid rent up until the prior month, and have given at least a week’s notice to your landlord of your inability to pay rent due to loss of work or pay related to COVID-19, verified through documentation, you are subject to a statewide stay on evictions until May 31st. Some localities, on the city or county level, may have longer timelines. Unfortunately, these orders do not waive or reduce any rent that is owed or may be charged.

Mortgage: If your mortgage is with Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Citibank, and JPMorgan Chase you may reach out to your bank to apply for 90-day forbearance for residential mortgage payments if you’ve been affected by COVID-19. Bank of America has agreed to offer 30 days. Waiving your mortgage payments under these agreements will not negatively impact your credit. Your bank may also offer additional forms of relief under these agreements.

Furthermore, California’s Judicial Council has suspended eviction judgements and foreclosures until 90 days after the Governor lifts the state of emergency. This prevents anyone from being summoned and from a judge issuing a default judgment. Landlords may still file evictions, but it won’t be served and the tenant is not subject to the five-day deadline to respond while these emergency rules are in place. Trials that were initially requested for April are postponed for at least 60 days. The deadlines for exercising any rights in a foreclosure case, including any right of redemption from a foreclosure sale, or petitioning the court concerning such a right are also postponed.

18. How can nursing home workers receive assistance with their student loans during this time? [Advocacy] 

The federal government is offering assistance to federal student loan borrowers due to the crisis. First, all federal student loans have been reduced to a zero interest rate until September 30, 2020; this was automatically applied to any eligible loans. Second, eligible federal student loans will be automatically placed on temporary forbearance until September 30, 2020. A borrower may request to be removed from forbearance if they wish to continue making payments on their loans during this time. Please visit myfedloan.org for more information.