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Murdoch workers petition state for hazard pay: ‘We are treated as sacrificial’

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BUTNER — A union of state employees at Murdoch Developmental Center is demanding the state provide workers with hazard pay after one of the center’s employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, which operates Murdoch, said workers will qualify for additional pay if a patient or resident — not a worker — tests positive for the virus.

However, many N.C. Public Service Workers Union members at Murdoch said they are concerned for their safety in part because the center’s residents don’t have to wear masks, even though employees do.

“We aren’t treated as essential, we are treated as sacrificial,” said union member Shanequa Logan in a press release sent by the union Tuesday. “Wearing the masks makes it hard to breathe and concentrate. We are trying to breathe while taking care of the patients and sweating. Then our glasses fog up. We have health issues, especially those with asthma, and its very hard to work with shortness of breath.”

Murdoch provides long-term care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and other behavioral conditions. It is not a designated facility that treats COVID-19.

The union held a press conference outside Murdoch on Wednesday, after delivering a petition demanding hazard pay to facility director Pam Kuhno.

A staff member at Murdoch tested positive for COVID-19 on May 7, according to a spokesperson for DHHS. No residents are known to have COVID-19 and the facility is not considered to have an outbreak — defined as two or more cases.

“Immediate action was taken to reduce the risk of exposure within the facility and communication went out on the same day providing notification to all staff and guardians,” said Kelly Haight Connor, the spokesperson.

DHHS said its employees and residents are being screened with temperature checks daily. No visitors are allowed at the facility and social distancing rules are in place to prevent co-mingling of residents and staff from different units. The facility is also being disinfected regularly.

“The safety and wellbeing of those we serve, and our staff, is our top priority,” Connor said.

Some union members said they felt they should qualify for hazard pay before retail and grocery store employees.

“We are bringing the virus home to our family,” Janet Silver, a union worker at Murdoch, said in the release. “Not only are we health care workers, we are working with people with behavior issues. We are coming in, dealing with behaviors, and performing our jobs the way we were before. We are wearing masks, stressed out, and dealing with these behaviors. We should have gotten hazard pay first.”

DHHS implemented special compensation for qualifying employees on May 1. The additional pay is provided to health workers in quarantine units and in admissions and screening offices, as well as in designated COVID-positive units. Emergency pay is also given to all employees of a facility with at least one confirmed COVID-positive patient or resident, as long as that resident remains there.