Visalia nursing home workers demand hazard pay during pandemic

VISALIA, Calif. (KFSN) -- Compared to some other Tulare County nursing homes, Westgate Gardens Care Center in Visalia has had relatively few COVID-19 cases.

According to its administrator, six residents have tested positive for the disease, including one who died.

Redwood Springs Healthcare Center, meanwhile, has had more than 100 residents test positive, and more than 30 have died.

But employees of Westgate Gardens say the work they're doing to care for residents during a pandemic is just as important, and the threat of contracting COVID just as real as it is at any other skilled nursing facility.

"Whether it's one case or a hundred cases, we're still on the line, we're still here trying to make sure that this virus doesn't spread inside our facility," said Brad Ayers, a Certified Nursing Assistant at Westgate Gardens.

On Thursday afternoon, Westgate workers, along with their union SEIU Local 2015, called on their employer to give them hazard pay, which they say many other nursing homes are offering to their staff.

They held signs that said, 'People over profits. No blank checks for greedy bosses. Hazard pay now!'

"Bring attention to these greedy corporations that don't want to invest into employees that do the actual work," SEIU Local 2015 representative Shirley Todman-Mcneese told workers on Thursday.

"It's sad that it's actually come to this but at the same time it's nice to see my co-workers come together and stick together and know that we're fighting for something that's good and something that's right," Ayers said.

"Our existing collective bargaining agreement with the staff members' union, SEIU, dictates our dedicated employees' compensation," Westgate Gardens Care Center Administrator Benjamin Carter said. "No provisions for hazardous pay exist."

"We continue to remain diligent in our efforts to prevent the spread of the virus, thanks to our dedicated staff," Carter said. "Our top priority remains the health and well-being of everyone in our facility."

Workers said their efforts to keep the virus controlled in the facility should be rewarded.

"The risk is still there regardless if we are taking care of one, two, however many. Exposure is exposure," said Westgate Gardens CNA Priscilla Brown.

Annabelle Marquez said her mother is a resident of Westgate Gardens.

Marquez showed up in support of the facility's workers who she feels have stepped up in their care and emotional support while she has been unable to visit.

"Not being able to see a family member, that is why I appreciate Brad so much and some of the other workers that help my mom. They are like family," she said.
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