“This virus also doesn’t recognize status” – Smokey Thomas

OPSEU has opened their new headquarters on Memorial Avenue in Thunder Bay.

TORONTO – “This virus also doesn’t recognize status,” said Thomas. “Our members are far from the only ones in danger here. The people they’re helping are already some of the most vulnerable people in our communities, and COVID-19 has left them even more vulnerable.

OPSEU President Thomas
OPSEU President Smokey Thomas

“If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that when we get through this crisis, we need a strategy to ensure that every one of us has a home.”

As a Toronto homeless shelter reports that a worker has tested positive for COVID-19, OPSEU is urging that the Chief Medical Officer provide the same protections to community social service workers that he’s granting health care workers.

“This virus doesn’t care about job titles,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “If your work brings you into close contact with others, you’re at risk. And shelter work, like a lot of other community social service work, brings you in close contact with others.

Thomas said he applauds the new powers that the provincial government and health authorities have given to all health care workers and their unions to determine what Personal Protective Equipment they need to do their jobs safely.

“Health care workers are now availed protections like masks when deemed clinically appropriate, which is excellent,” said Thomas. “Community social service workers in close contact with individuals who are positive or presumptive positive deserve exactly the same thing.”

Kareen Marshall, who is the chair of OPSEU’s Community Agencies Sector, works at Homes First Society, the Toronto shelter where the worker – also an OPSEU member – has tested positive. Marshall says she and her co-workers are trying to socially distance as much as possible while at work, but it’s not always possible.

“You can’t provide emergency housing over a video conference,” said Marshall. “We need to be there to ensure that they get the safe and supportive housing they need.”

OPSEU First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida said he understands that masks and other safety equipment are in short supply.

“And that’s exactly why community social service workers urgently need a real voice on the safety of their work,” said Almeida. “With limited supplies, we have to make sure everybody who really needs protection gets it. We’re not doing ourselves any favours if we stop the spread in hospitals and long-term care homes while it’s spreading unchecked through our group homes and shelters.”

SOURCE Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU)


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