Penny Ceasar: Don’t let Florida politicians take away our freedom, rights, protections
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Doctors and nurses coordinate hands. Concept Teamwork
'I’m an essential worker, and my union kept me safe in the pandemic.'

I remember life at work before I joined a union. I was working two part-time jobs at the same hospital to make ends meet while watching my co-workers continuously face unnecessary challenges. Then my co-workers and I decided to join a union. I managed to find a full-time position as a union member and became a delegate right away. We instantly felt more secure in our jobs and part of a community that looked out for each other.

I work in a hospital because I care about helping people. Being a member of the union helped me find my voice and my power and showed my fellow members how we could come together to help each other on the job. That confidence and sense of community have been crucial to us as we continue to survive while caring for our fellow Floridians during this pandemic.

But some Florida politicians are making it harder and harder for us to succeed. We’re two full years into the COVID-19 pandemic in which Florida workers have risked their lives to keep our economy open, care for others, educate our kids and keep so many other essential elements of our society running. But if we’re so essential, especially in the face of such historic dangers, why are some Florida politicians trying to take away our freedom to speak up, protect ourselves and be paid fairly?

Two proposed bills — SB 1458 and HB 1197 — attack workers’ rights as yet another cynical attempt to break up unions in our state. Politicians who propose this type of legislation prioritize profits over people and don’t really care about the needs of everyday Floridians. As a longtime health care worker and member of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, I’ve had a front-row seat to what caregivers have faced during this unprecedented public health emergency.

We love what we do and care deeply for the patients in our facilities, but we’re exhausted from two years of nonstop stress, danger and anxiety. On a daily basis, we are caring for sick patients and being directly exposed to COVID-19 and then going home to our families in fear of spreading infection to our own loved ones.

We do this day in and day out while fighting for proper PPE, sick time, testing and hazard pay. Additionally, unsafe and understaffed working conditions, which have been a longtime problem in the health care industry, have become a crisis during the pandemic that threatens to crash our entire health system. Hundreds of hospital nurses have left the state for higher wages and better working conditions.

The situation is dire in hospitals, but even worse in our nursing homes. These facilities have been the hottest of spots for COVID-19 deaths and infections among patients and staff. Yet, the staff earns the lowest of pay and benefits while caring for the most elderly, frail and vulnerable Floridians.

So many caregivers have gotten sick, and some have even died. Most who contract COVID-19 on the job do not have enough sick pay to cover the time off they need to get better. With low wages, little or no savings and living paycheck to paycheck, that means we can’t pay our bills.

At the same time, our employers — giant hospital corporations and nursing home operators — are making billions in profits, much of this funded by our tax dollars. This money then finds its way back to the politicians in the form of campaign contributions and PAC payments.

As workers, we’ve had to band together to support each other. During the pandemic, it was just us who fought for PPE, hazard pay, safe staffing and other necessary protections.

Historically, workers having the right to stand together has resulted in safer workplaces, better pay and the opportunity to support our families and communities. History and studies have shown that strong unions make things better for all working people, unionized or not. Profit-driven employers do all they can to keep wages, benefits and costs down. This comes at the expense of workers, and in the case of the health care industry, our patients, too.

For many hardworking Floridians, unions have provided community and the courage and power to negotiate to achieve a greater good for all. In my experience, our victories have been hard-fought through collective bargaining. If employees didn’t have the backing of their union, individuals would be at the mercy of management most interested in revenue, executive bonuses and stock prices.

Banners in hospital hallways call us “heroes” and “essential.” It’s insulting when it’s not backed up with support and an honest commitment from our lawmakers to invest in our quality of life — lawmakers including those who falsely claim to be serving Floridians while proposing bills such as SB 1458 and HB 1197. For the sake of all working families and Floridians, we need lawmakers to step-up and vote NO on these bad bills. I also encourage everyone to call your state Senators and ask them to vote NO on SB 1458 and HB 1197.


Penny Ceasar is a unit secretary in a South Florida hospital and a member of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the state’s largest union of caregivers. 1199SEIU is part of the Service Employees International Union in Florida, which represents more than 80,000 diverse professionals and essential workers statewide, including health care professionals, public employees and property service workers.

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One comment

  • Ocean Joe

    February 2, 2022 at 5:32 am

    Thankyou Ms. Ceasar for keeping our hospitals open. Hospitals remain a place where science prevails over voodoo and conspiracy nonsense. Florida’s legislature is not on your side. That’s why they are now trying to further limit constitutional amendments. The legislature’s gerrymandered status prevents it’s intended design, it does not represent the public, only a minority via gerrymandering and the special interests whose money keeps them in power.

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