Public Employee Press: PEP Talk
Contract Tracing Program ends
Union fights to save workers’ jobs
By MIKE LEE
They did their job bravely and with the utmost professionalism expected of DC 37’s essential frontline workers. Now the jobs of contact tracers in the NYC Test & Trace Corps who worked for the program during the pandemic, ended at the end of April.
With the perceived reduction of the need for their work when universal contact tracing stopped, the New York State Department of Labor’s Office of Dislocated Workers Program posted a notice on March 8, informing contact tracers at NYC Health+Hospitals in the Public Health Adviser title, represented by Local 768, that their positions are terminated “on or about April 29.”
As PEP Talk went to press, COVID-19 infection rates in the City were climbing despite high vaccination rates. But changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines left these workers facing layoffs.
In response, DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido demanded these members, who proved their value since the summer of 2020 be transferred to positions elsewhere in the City’s Department of Health (DOH).
“They are experienced and valued workers and can contribute to serving the needs of our communities,” Garrido said. “Because of their pivotal contributions during the COVID crisis, they deserve our support. The City must recognize their efforts by moving them into positions where they can continue their work.”
Local 768 President Carmen De León agrees. “The contact tracers are a great bunch of people. I can’t thank them enough,” she said. “They’re dedicated to their work. Many have gone above and beyond what they needed to do for their jobs and making sure that they contacted the people who needed to be reached.”
She said that most people did not know the extent of the contact tracer job. “I don’t think people understand the amount of work that went into this. Case Investigators would search through various means and find the information needed to contact people to offer the services granted via the program,” De León said.
“I don’t believe that people understood the amount of work that went into going into the community and knocking on a person’s door, not once, not twice, but three or four times until they received a response.”
Contact tracers were responsible for identifying and then contacting people in close contact with a person who was confirmed COVID-19 or infected with the deadly virus. They made connections by telephone, searched for information on individuals online, and made countless personal visits to inform them of their possible exposure and quarantine for two weeks. They also offered services to those who needed them while under lockdown.
When the layoff notice came in, DC 37 sprang into action, engaging in intense negotiations with the City. Garrido personally led the union’s side in negotiations, working with city officials to save as many of these members’ jobs as possible by transferring them to suitable positions at DOH. However, time was tight, with the imposed deadline of only a few weeks.
During negotiations, H+H conducted multiple recruitment events, including virtual job fairs with various City agencies, along with offering membership with a career counseling service. As PEP talk goes to press, 61 accepted jobs in the agency.
“I really appreciate the effort by Henry Garrido in his work to negotiate finding these members jobs at other positions,” De León said. “This was a hard task with such short notice.”
However, De León worried about the future. “Thankfully the virus is more manageable, and cases are going down. Nevertheless, the concern is what happens if there is a spike? Will we have enough workers to have access to people to notify them? If not, what would then happen?”