With COVID cases surging in Iowa, our members gathered in front of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) for a candlelight vigil on August 26 to honor essential workers.
“We have to lift them up,” said Kathy Stahmer, who lost her husband, union activist Mel Stahmer, to COVID-19 just a week earlier. She came to the vigil to thank the UIHC staff who cared for him in his final days, and to urge Iowa Senators Joni Ernest and Chuck Grassley to pass the Heroes Act and protect all the frontline workers still keeping America going.
Here in Iowa, virtually all 5,000 Local 199 members are essential workers. From our nursing home caregivers to our public school custodians, aides and secretaries to our Finley Hospital and UIHC RNs and healthcare professionals, we’re risking our health every day to protect the public we serve.
When Kathy spoke of her husband’s union activism, she stressed that Mel fought for safety for every worker. In working to pass the Heroes Act, we’re carrying on his fight. By urging Senators Ernst and Grassley to pass the Heroes Act, we can get essential workers the PPE and the resources we need to keep caring for Iowa. Our senators need to pass the act now. On the day of our vigil, Johnson County recorded its highest number of new COVID cases to that point.
At the vigil, we were joined by someone who knows those numbers as well as anyone: UIHC nurse practitioner and SEIU member Dana Jones. She made national news after finding a serious flaw in Iowa’s reported COVID data, but Dana didn’t talk about statistics at the vigil. She spoke from the heart about the amazing care our members are giving to COVID patients while never losing focus on all the other Iowans we serve. To maintain that care, Dana said, our senators have to pass the Heroes Act.
Iowa City Council member Pauline Taylor, a former UIHC RN and founding member of our union at the hospital, made the link between care and community. Just as healthcare workers need the support of the Heroes Act, so do America’s struggling state and local governments. If we’re going to get Iowa City’s businesses back up and running safely, we have to get the virus under control. And the Heroes Act will give strapped city governments critical resources to do that.
Our vigil was one event in a national week of prayer and reflection for essential workers. Our prayer was read by Pat Bowen, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, and it was written by the Rev. Julia Rendon, pastor of the Crossroads United Church of Christ in Indianola. She mourned the loss of “precious neighbors and family members [whose lives] have been cut short by COVID-19.”
She also addressed Senators Ernst and Grassley: “May they take seriously their responsibility to all the people of Iowa. May they have the courage to do what is right, despite the toxic political environment they inhabit. We pray that they will work to pass the HEROES Act—to protect workers by providing PPE, to make sick leave and hazard pay available in this most hazardous of times, to help our communities survive the financial hits caused by the pandemic. It is the job they signed up for, Holy One; inspire them with your fierce urgency.”
Connecting all the speakers was SEIU Local 199 President Cathy Glasson, RN. Cathy highlighted the links that tie us all together. Whether a wife grieving the loss of her husband or a healthcare worker haunted by all the patients COVID has claimed, we are struggling to get through this time. It’s by standing together to support each other that we’ll get through this, Cathy said.