Overlooked by management during the pandemic, Red Cross workers fight for a fair contract

They collect, protect and deliver our nation’s blood supply, yet the almost 3,000 American Red Cross workers are not being paid what they deserve, lack the staff to do their jobs effectively, face cuts to their health care and, over the course of the pandemic, have often gone without pay and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).

Now, as they bargain for a new contract, AFSCME and a coalition of unions that represent Red Cross workers, are calling on the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Robert Califf, to urge Red Cross management to deliver a fair contract by May 31 – when their current contract expires – to these workers.

The letter to the FDA commissioner, co-authored by 10 unions representing Red Cross workers from across the country, details the dangers and inequities that these health care workers have faced during the pandemic.

“These essential workers and their families were at risk of exposure to COVID-19 due to the nature of the work, particularly prior to the COVID-19 vaccine, yet still worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, including without proper PPE during the first devastating months,” the letter states.

“Indeed, many were exposed to COVID-19 on the job and needed to quarantine, sometimes multiple times, which used up all their paid time off (PTO) or even caused some of these workers to go without pay during two-week quarantines, and sometimes multiple quarantines throughout the pandemic – an incredible hardship for low wage hourly workers, many of whom live paycheck to paycheck for their basic needs,” the letter continued. “Many lost multiple weeks of pay due to COVID-19 exposures at work.”

In providing such a vital service to our communities, American Red Cross workers deserve respect, fair treatment, affordable health care and safe working conditions. However, the Red Cross has denied these everyday heroes the voice they need to make improvements in the workplace that will save lives, including ensuring safe staffing levels, providing adequate PPE and preventing harmful levels of turnover among trained staff.

Some regions have seen 50% turnover and others as high as 100%. What’s more, the Red Cross wants to roll back health care protections.

In a recent Guardian article, one longtime Red Cross worker described the organization’s laissez faire attitude toward the pandemic and treatment of its workers as a slap in the face, saying that morale among workers is at an all-time low.

Another echoed the same sentiment, saying, “I can go work at any fast food restaurant and make more money.”

With bargaining underway, AFSCME and other Red Cross worker unions are demanding a contract that provides employees a living wage, affordable quality health care and adequate working conditions.