Two union sisters died from COVID-19 during the December holiday season in Ontario, Canada – SEIU member, Maureen Ambersley and Unifor’s Sheila Yakovishin. Both women worked in long-term care, and their deaths are a stark reminder that health workers continue to put their lives on the line everyday fighting this pandemic.
“Maureen died simply because she went to work. She was deeply dedicated to her community and proudly served as a nurse. But her government and the greedy nursing home industry failed her,” said Sharleen Stewart, president of SEIU Healthcare in Ontario. “What we’re witnessing is the crushing weight of a for-profit long-term care system in crisis falling on the shoulders of working women, and predominately women of colour. Instead of putting every resource available towards combating the pandemic, including better personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, we’re seeing profits come before people. Together with our union partners, SEIU will keep fighting to strengthen the safety and security for all workers.”
Shelley Smith, second vice president of Unifor Local 2458, who worked with Sheila at Berkshire Care Centre said:
“I personally was very devastated when I heard. We are all fighting this terrible pandemic and virus that we’re in right now and it really hit very close to home when I heard that Sheila had passed away. She was a great woman, she was very funny, very fun-loving, caring, compassionate, and of course being a PSW (personal support worker) wanting to go to work and do her very best to take care of the residents.”
Ontario nursing homes have been hit hard during the COVID-19 crisis, in some homes the death rate has been as high as 80%. Unions say that employers, who are financially struggling during the pandemic, have been trying to save money by limiting access to PPE.
UNI General Secretary, Christy Hoffman, said:
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Maureen and Sheila – two dedicated care workers and union sisters in Ontario. Day after day, essential workers put their service to others before their own lives. It is simply unacceptable that care workers in Ontario are still not getting the right access to PPE or the protections they need. We commend our affiliates in winning increased protections for health workers but the government still needs to do better.”