Search the LHSFNA website
Published: May, 2021; Vol 18, Num 1

 

LIUNA Affiliates Are Stepping Up to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine to Members

LIUNA General
Secretary-Treasurer
and LHSFNA Labor
Co-Chairman
Armand E. Sabitoni

As the national rollout of several safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines has ramped up in the U.S., LIUNA District Councils, Local Unions and other affiliates have been encouraging members to get the vaccine when it’s their turn.

“Every shot in the arm is a step toward ending the pandemic and returning jobsites and our lives outside of work to normal,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “We commend all the LIUNA members who have already done their part by getting vaccinated and everyone across the entire LIUNA network who is helping to make that a reality.”

In parts of the country, LIUNA affiliates are going above and beyond to help members and their families get vaccinated. This month, we take a look at two such efforts underway in New York and Illinois.

New York State Laborers’ Health and Safety Trust Fund (NYSLHSF)

In parts of New York state, the problem wasn’t a lack of vaccine supply – it was a lack of health care infrastructure to get shots into arms. Because of this, the NYSLHSF chose to partner with local independent pharmacies to secure the vaccine.

“Unlike the county health departments and the larger pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, these smaller pharmacies don’t have the staff or the infrastructure to keep their business running and properly organize a vaccine clinic,” says Frank Marchese Jr., Executive Director of the NYSLHSF. “In New York, pharmacies only have a seven day window to administer the vaccine or they won’t get additional allocations.”

Staff at the NYSLHSF moved quickly to organize events at LIUNA Local Unions. They secured the location for the clinic and – in partnership with other LIUNA Locals and other LIUNA affiliates – got the word out to members and helped them schedule appointments. On the day of the event, pharmacy staff are the ones administering the shots and getting consent forms from members. So while the clinic is facilitated by LIUNA, the liability remains with the pharmacy.

Image courtesy of the New York State
Laborers' Health & Safety Trust Fund

“We literally took the state and county model for the event and recreated it on a smaller scale,” said Marchese. “We have a big space to work with at the Locals. We set it up to follow CDC guidelines for standing six feet apart, we have hand sanitizer everywhere and chairs and tables six feet apart, we have the observation area post-vaccination with EMTs on hand in case anyone had a negative reaction.”

When the NYSLHSF hosted its first clinic, eligibility requirements in New York state were limited to those age 50 and up and people with qualifying medical conditions. Since then, eligibility requirements have expanded, allowing even more Laborers and some of their family members to get vaccinated as well.

At the first clinic at Laborers’ Local 190 in Glenmont, NY, more than 150 people were vaccinated. A second clinic at Teamsters Local 456 saw more than 100 people get vaccinated. Since those first two clinics, staff at the NYSLHSF have organized additional clinics for LIUNA members in Queens, Long Island and in several other locations. The Fund has recently completed their largest clinic to date, in which 411 LIUNA members and their families were vaccinated.

“When the members can show up to a union-sponsored event down the street from where they live and get the vaccine in a safe environment, you can see the relief and comfort on their faces,” says Marchese. “We had a member who tried for two months to get the vaccine, and a few days after signing up through this program, he and his wife were able to get the shot at a LIUNA Local. At another clinic, we were able to help a 99 year old retiree who didn’t have the tech skills to navigate the signup process online.”

“Seeing how appreciative the members are, how incredulous they are that their Local can provide this service, has made all the planning and effort to organize these events worth it. It’s been incredibly rewarding to be a part of.”

Chicago Laborers’ District Council

Unlike in parts of New York state, Illinois was seeing more demand for the COVID-19 vaccine than there was supply. To overcome this obstacle and help LIUNA members get vaccinated, the Chicago Laborers’ District Council (CLDC) partnered with the IBEW and the Pipefitters. The idea was that by acting as a larger pool of workers, they would be more successful at attracting the attention of a large-scale vaccine provider. That vaccine provider ended up being UChicago Medicine Ingalls Occupational Medicine, which provides a number of health services, including administering COVID-19 vaccines.

Image courtesy of the New York State
Laborers' Health & Safety Trust Fund

“The District Council wants to create as many channels as possible for members to get the vaccine,” said Cathy Wenskus, Administrator of the Laborers’ Pension and Welfare Funds. “At these union-sponsored events, members from any of the three unions will be able to get vaccinated. We want to improve access for members by reducing the number of people they are competing against for appointments.”

By partnering with a large-scale provider, the CLDC will be able to sponsor two vaccine clinics each week. Once underway, the goal is for these clinics to help vaccinate about 15,000 members in their first 45 days alone.

“This is about ensuring members can go to work safely, that they can maintain their paycheck and maintain their health and pension benefits,” said Wenskus. “We weren’t going to sit back and wait for someone else to give us a solution. Not being in the business of delivering health care, it was very important for us to tap into the existing health care infrastructure.”

Like other vaccine providers, Ingalls Occupational Medicine secures their vaccine doses by working with county health departments in Illinois, which get their vaccine allotments from the state. So while the vaccine clinics will be union-sponsored events and facilitated by LIUNA, the IBEW and the Pipefitters, all the consent forms and other legal documents are through Ingalls.

The first two clinics – chosen for their proximity to members and the ability to get a supply of vaccine in those counties – will be held at the Pipefitters’ training center in Mokena, IL, and the IBEW technical institute in Alsip, IL. In planning these events, training centers were found to offer several positives as vaccination sites, including plenty of space, parking and a layout that often allows people to enter one way and leave another.

Another vaccine clinic effort spearheaded by the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL) is also underway in the Chicago area. Located at IUOE Local 399’s union hall, this separate program is being run in conjunction with the City of Chicago. LIUNA members are all eligible for vaccination at this CFL site.

For more detailed information on the administrative and logistical side of hosting a vaccine clinic, check out the Fund’s latest guidance document, COVID-19 Vaccination Clinics, or contact the Health Promotion Division at 202-628-5465.

Are you a LIUNA affiliate organizing your own vaccine clinic for members? Let us know at lifelines@lhsfna.org.

[Nick Fox]