Unifor members from across Canada gathered online Thursday to honour workers who have died in the pandemic, including three from Unifor.
“Unifor’s members have been at the forefront of the struggle against the virus, especially our frontline heroes in healthcare, long-term care homes and thousands of essential workplaces,” Unifor National President Jerry Dias said.
The Unifor members honoured on the vigil were group home worker Leonard Rodriques, Local 40, warehouse worker Derrick Crooks, Local 414, and personal support worker Sheila Yakovishin from Local 2458.
Local 40 President David Amow said Rodriques, who bought his own PPE at a dollar store, “always put clients first. Even up to his final days with us, he still put clients first.”
Local 414’s Gord Currie said Crooks loved to make videos of himself singing and dancing and was “full of laughs and loved to make people laugh.”
Local 2458 President Tullio DiPonti said Yakovishin was “known for her sense of humour and her fun-loving ways, she was also extremely caring and compassionate.”
Dias said Unifor will continue to honour these workers by fighting for improvements for all workers.
“The memories of these COVID heroes will never be forgotten and we will do everything as an organization in our power to honour them by making sure that employers do not sacrifice the health and safety of workers in the pursuit of profit,” Dias said.
Quebec Director Renaud Gagné said the pandemic has hit workers in the health care system hard.
“These people were mostly personal support workers who took care of our seniors. One morning they left for work to take care of our parents, our grandparents. They came back sick and unfortunately died. It's tragic. It should never have happened,” he said
Unifor Secretary-Treasurer Lana Payne said the best way to honour those killed by COVID-19 is to never forget the lessons learned during the pandemic.
“We must never forget how quickly essential workers went from heroes to having their pandemic pay cut. We must never forget the travesty of long-term care. The carnage that has occurred there,” she said.
Dias listed three key demands to keep workers safe: paid sick days, the right to know about hazards in the workplace and to refuse unsafe work and the need for Pesonal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all workers.
Ontario Regional Director Naureen Rizvi outlined the need for paid sick leave, Western Regional Director Gavin McGarrigle outlined the right of workers to know and refuse, while Atlantic Regional Director Linda MacNeil discussed the urgent need for better access to PPE.
Members at the vigil stressed the need for action, including a paramedic who said he and his co-workers are not being provided with proper PPE.
“I am asking, please come help us because we are transporting COVID patients with the bare minimum of protection,” the member said.
Another stressed the need for workers to be able to refuse unsafe work.
“It costs lives and someone needs to be held accountable,” the member said.
An emotional night for all, one member also acknowledged his own privileged position, while recognizing the pain felt by so many and the need for action.
“I’m lucky, I’m still working. But there’s a lot of members who are hurting right now,” the member said.