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Feeling Unsafe, UW Hospital Workers Call for More Protections

University of Washington workers say they need more Plexiglas barriers in the hospitals. (Justin Lee/Washington Federation of State Employees)
University of Washington workers say they need more Plexiglas barriers in the hospitals. (Justin Lee/Washington Federation of State Employees)
May 13, 2020

SEATTLE -- University of Washington hospital workers are feeling vulnerable as the state inches back to normal. Custodial staff at Harborview Medical Center and UW Medical Center say they need more protective gear and safety measures in place.

Paula Lukaszek, a plumber at UW and president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1488, a union representing workers at the campus, said workers want more Plexiglas shields in places where they come into contact with patients. She even installed a shield at the Harborview emergency-room check-in desk, but said management took it down.

"People have resorted to try to set up their own little things with cardboard," she said. "I mean, basically, it's a sneeze guard."

The union also wants notification when a staff member tests positive for coronavirus. Workers are planning a "unity break" at 12:30 p.m. Thursday near Harborview, calling for more safety protections. A spokesperson for UW says they are speaking with the union about installing more shields. She also says that if a worker tests positive they inform the person's manager so they can tell their coworkers.

Fasika Getahun, a custodian at Harborview, has seven kids and said she's scared of bringing the virus home. Getahun also is worried about the lack of personal protective equipment.

"I go room to room -- one mask only," she said. "Just coronavirus cleanup."

She said staff used to change masks after cleaning each room before the pandemic hit.

Lukaszek said getting to work is adding to their stress. UW is ending free parking for employees on Friday. With public transportation running at limited capacity, Lukaszek said managers suggested people bike to work, but she says that isn't feasible for many workers, who can't afford to live in Seattle.

"I mean, people don't know what they're going to do, trying to find a bus that can get 'em in on time," she said. "If it ends up taking them three hours each way to get to and from work, they're not feeling very appreciated."

UW says free parking was scheduled to end in April but was extended through May 15.

Disclosure: Washington Federation of State Employees - AFSCME Council 28 contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, and Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA