Members turn out in force supporting pandemic pay

More than a dozen Council 4 AFSCME members recently joined hundreds of frontline workers and supporters to urge legislators to provide pandemic hazard pay to essential employees.

At a virtual hearing March 8 before the Labor and Public Employees legislative committee, 14 members from 11 locals and Council 4 Executive Director Jody Barr spoke in favor of House Bill 5356, which would give a one-time bonus payment of $2,000 to full-time employees and $1,000 to part-time employees deemed essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gildemar Herrera, New Haven Public School District IT Director and member of Local 3144, said during her testimony that those who work in IT “are the unsung heroes of this pandemic.”

Many essential workers, such as police, firefighters, and medical personnel, could not function properly without someone in IT, she said, and schools were no different.

Herrera said although her staff were afraid for their own health and safety, they worked through their fears to continue to serve New Haven students.

“Pandemic pay would help put back some of that money they lost,” she said, “and reward them for the extra efforts and time they put in … We never got compensated in any way besides our regular pay to come do our regular job during a not-so-regular time.”

Middletown Police Sgt. Nick Puorro, Local 1361 President, said that more than half the Middletown Police Department contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic, which resulted in hundreds of shifts that needed to be filled.

His fellow officers rose to the occasion, he said.

“They did what they had to do,” he said. “They stepped up. They sacrificed themselves. They risk exposure to them and their families. They maintained the seamless service to the community.”

Passing the bill would show appreciation for their “selfless sacrifice,” he said.

Andrew Samsel, Bridgeport Detention Center juvenile detention officer and Local 749 trustee and steward, said facilities like the one he works in “became a flashpoint for the spread of COVID-19.”

“As juvenile detention officers, we best understand the struggles of being in a congregate setting and at increased risk of contracting COVID-19,” he said.

He felt the uncertainty and fear of bringing COVID-19 home acutely, he said, since one of his sons has an autoimmune disease.

“One time, I was exposed to COVID-19 from a co-worker,” he said. “I had to self-quarantine in a hotel for 10 days to protect my family. It was hard being away from them, however this was the only option so I would not risk exposing my son.”

HB 5356 is awaiting approval by the Labor Committee. If approved, it would head to the Appropriations Committee.

Thanks to our members who told their stories:

  • Sean Alexis, Southern Connecticut State University dispatcher, Local 478
  • Mary Ellen Barnes, Essex Social Service and Park & Recreation Director, Local 1303-479 President
  • Brooke Carta, Farm Hill School secretary, Local 466 Vice President
  • Colleen Carter, data support specialist, Local 704
  • Rob Cheatham, Norwalk DMV, Local 478
  • Corrado Ganci, juvenile detention officer, Local 749
  • Stacie Harris-Byrdsong, Capitol Region Education Council lead educator, Council 4 Secretary, Local 3194 President
  • Gildemar Herrera, New Haven Public Schools IT director, Local 3144
  • Sean Howard, correction officer, Local 387 President
  • James Long, parole officer, Local 1565 lead steward
  • Middletown Police Sgt. Nick Puorro, Local 1361 President
  • Andrew Samsel, juvenile detention officer, Local 749 steward/trustee
  • Daisy Sanchez, vocational rehab counselor, Local 2663 executive board/steward
  • Mark Torres, DOC ID records specialist, Local 704 President
  • Jody Barr, Council 4 AFSCME Executive Director