Unifor members step up to provide medical protective gear

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Unifor film and television members at NABET 700-M are stepping up to help provide medical protective gear for frontline medical workers, patients and the community. The spread of COVID-19 has resulted in shortages of key Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) including surgical caps, masks and protective face shields.  

“Our film and television members possess a wide range of skills that they are now using to help their local hospitals and communities in this dire time of need,” said Unifor National President Jerry Dias.

Joanna Syrokomla, a proud NABET 700-M Unifor member, President of the CAFTCAD Awards and Costume Designer for Murdoch Mysteries, answered the call when a friend who is an ER nurse asked if she could help make scrub caps.

“Traditionally they have to supply their own caps and scrubs but with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is required to change between every patient and they can’t keep up. I scoured my own fabric stash which had little appropriate materials but then was able to get into the Murdoch collection for supplies,” said Syrokomla. “Supporting our health care workers in any little way I can makes me proud I have any transferable skill to protect the lives of Canadians.”

Syrokomla with the help of her husband Greg Kleynhans, who is also a NABET 700-M Unifor member, have sewn 60 caps so far with the first batch already in use by emergency room staff.

Costume designers and hobby sewers alike at NABET 700-M have been asked to join the challenge by Toronto’s Michael Garron Hospital for the community to make 1,000 fabric masks a week. The donated masks will be used by visitors to the hospital, newly discharged patients, and people in the broader community to help prevent disease transmission.

Unifor Women’s Director Lisa Kelly has also joined the effort, spending nights and weekends at her sewing machine.

“We’ve been talking about the toll this takes on mental health while work within the union has intensified to support our members who are losing jobs, self-isolating with their abuser, losing supports or facing uncertainty,” said Kelly. “I don’t sew very well but this is something I can do in a modest way to take pressure off the shortage of PPE and it helps my own stress and anxiety to be contributing.”

Legendary children’s educational television host Mr. Rogers inspired Kelly. As a boy when Rogers would see scary things on the news, he explained, “My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

“In addition to the physical support that these masks will provide, just as importantly in these times, they also represent that we are all in this together and have an abundance of creativity and skills to collectively contribute” said Kelly.


A Unifor member’s skill is also being used to help manufacture PPE for health care workers on the front lines. NABET 700-M member Craig Grant is a Props Master who has been working on the set of Murdoch Mysteries for the past 13 years where he designs and builds all the props.

Part of Grant’s expertise involves using technologies to make design and fabrication easier, including the use of a 3D printer. When Grant learned of the need to produce face shield frames for medical workers, he acted swiftly to download the file and start printing.


“I am currently able to print two units at a time, which takes about an hour,” said Grant. “It’s a small thing that I can help with, that hopefully can make someone a little safer and a little more at ease with the situation. And it helps me feel not quite so helpless in the face of this pandemic.”


Canadian medical drama TV shows are also rallying to help real-life hospital staff as masks, gloves and gowns purchased for the sets of  ‘Coroner’, ‘Transplant’ and ‘Nurses’ are now being donated to frontline hospital staff treating COVID-19 patients.