“Frontline Workers Matter”: UnityPoint Health-Meriter employees, community leaders and elected officials to call for equality and respect

Madison, WI- On Thursday, June 3, UnityPoint Health-Meriter service and support employees will be joined by community leaders and elected officials for a “Frontline Workers Matter” action calling for equality and respect. The employees include certified nursing assistants, environmental services workers, engineering mechanics, obstetric techs, dietary workers and others, who have risked their lives and their families’ lives to keep Meriter running during the pandemic. Now the workers are suffering from extreme exhaustion and burn out. But despite massive profits and executive pay, and branding which loudly proclaims “You Matter,” UnityPoint Health is refusing to provide service workers with the same time off as nurses and other employees, so they can recover from the pandemic. 

“As an environmental services worker, I sterilize and disinfect the operating room at Meriter to very strict standards, and I’m proud to protect our patients from infection,” said Michael Elvord, who has worked at Meriter for six years. “We’ve always taken our jobs extremely seriously, but during the pandemic, we ratcheted up our vigilance. We hold ourselves accountable to doing our jobs with the highest care, because we know our family members could be next in that room getting a surgery or C-section. We all had a lot of fear about being infected with the virus or bringing it home to loved ones, but we came to work every day and did our jobs. Now we need to replenish ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Quality healthcare delivery takes an entire team, and UnityPoint Health-Meriter needs to show that our whole team matters by treating us with dignity and respect.”

When frontline Meriter workers were exposed to COVID and required to quarantine, many had to use their own paid time off. Almost a third are either near or below zero with their time off banks, with many in the “negative” and actually owing the hospital money. Registered nurses were recently able to address this urgent issue by achieving a groundbreaking union contract which provides 60 hours of additional paid time off. Meriter then gave 40 hours of additional paid time off to non-union employees. But when service and support workers requested the same recognition of their sacrifices, executives refused to even discuss the issue until next year. Workers say they are suffering today, and additional paid time off is crucial to be able to care for themselves and their loved ones. 

UnityPoint Health-Meriter is extremely financially healthy, and can certainly afford to address workers’ concerns. In 2020, UnityPoint Health made over $278 million in profits, and Meriter Health had over $67 million in profits. UnityPoint Health received more than $74 million in taxpayer bailouts through the Coronavirus Aide, Relief and Economy Security Act. In 2019, UnityPoint Health’s CEO received over $2.6 million in compensation, and there’s a long list of top executives raking in large pay packages, many of whom were likely working from the safety of their homes and offices rather than on the front lines.

“We didn’t have the luxury of working from home like UnityPoint Health-Meriter executives,” said Nick Bates, who has been a certified nursing assistant at Meriter for 11 years. “I worked in the screening tent for COVID patients, which is the front line of the front line. I’m proud of the role I played protecting and being of service to our community. But when UnityPoint Health-Meriter refuses to acknowledge our sacrifices, it really feels like a slap in the face. All job titles were there in the hospital, providing care, disinfecting rooms, repairing the ventilation system and cooking nutritious meals. We’re the foundation holding up the entire hospital, so you can’t have all the profits and taxpayer bailouts just going to executives at the top. My coworkers and I are absolutely fried after this really rough year, and many are in the negative with their time off. We just need UnityPoint Health-Meriter executives to recognize our hard work so we can recharge for our physical and mental well-being.”