New York, NY – Legendary Academy Award-winner Jane Fonda never had to endure economic hardship — but this week, at a virtual town hall for essential workers, Fonda made it clear that she stands solidly behind working men and women struggling on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m a person of privilege,” Fonda told the town hall on May 20. “I’ve never experienced the hardships that our essential workers face — hardships that they’ve had to face all along — living in constant insecurity about whether or not you can pay your bills. These are not things that I have ever had to face.”
Nevertheless, Fonda noted how — “The Grapes of Wrath” — which starred her father Henry Fonda and told the story of Oklahoma farmers being uprooted by the Great Depression and dust storms — profoundly shaped her as a child.
“I decided right then and there whose side I would always be on,” she said.
Fonda was the guest speaker at the virtual town hall presented by National COSH —the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health. The online event brought together workers in healthcare, transit, fast food and other vital sectors of the shattered economy to discuss their ongoing campaigns to secure more personal protective equipment [PPE] and stimulus funding.
Buffalo Registered Nurse Sarah Buckley and her colleagues didn’t even have proper PPE when they first began treating COVID-19 patients at the start of the pandemic — a reality that filled her with terror.
“The last thing that a healthcare worker wants to do is harm their parents — and God forbid, harm their families,” the CWA Local 1168 member said. “I remember going into my Covid-19 patient’s room. I grabbed the handle of the door, and normally, I’m focused on a patient — but I just pictured what it would be like not having the protection I needed and going home to my daughter who has asthma and what that could mean for her.”
Buckley and her co-workers then joined together in virtual rallies and car caravans demanding more PPE. The actions made a difference — because the hospital soon distributed more necessary gowns, gloves and face masks to staffers.
Buckley also volunteered to work in her hospital’s COVID-19 Intensive Care Unit [ICU] during the pandemic.
“It’s very physical work and also you’re very alone,” she said. “The patients are very alone because they can’t have visitors — and you are very alone once you’re in the room because of course you want to cut down on any exposures. So, what is often more of a team-working environment becomes a very isolated working environment.”
The COVID-19 ICU is also hard on the nurses’ aides, physical assistants and nursing directors.
“They’re a very tough bunch and they’re used to a lot of death — but the amount of death from COVID-19 has just been overwhelming,” Buckley said.
Indeed, some of Buckley’s co-workers have gotten sick, as well. One recently died from the virus.
Still, Buckley is buoyed by her co-worker’s strong morale.
“It’s just very amazing and impressive to see healthcare workers, despite their terror of possibly contracting the virus, lifting each other up and working together to fight back on a lot of these issues,” she said. “I’m proud to be a union worker.”
National COSH, the Labor Network for Sustainability and other worker advocates are now working to assemble an in memoriam to honor essential workers from all sectors who have died of COVID-19.
Fonda is also putting her star power behind the effort.
“We want people to realize how many have been lost unnecessarily and to do something about it,” she said. “If you have a friend, colleague or family member who have passed, please give their name and photos to National COSH so that we can include them in this very moving tribute.”