Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations
Interview conducted on May 14th, 2020
Cassandra Knight has worked in the healthcare field for 25 years. Starting as a home care worker, she has worked as a patient care technician (PCT) at Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, NY for the past six years. She believes that many of the workers who interact with patients the most, like PCTs and environmental service workers, are often under appreciated for their work during this crisis. She is a delegate of 1199SEIU in Rochester and is proud that her union obtained masks for healthcare workers who did not have access to protective equipment during the earlier part of the crisis.
Johnnie Kallas: How long have you worked in the field?
Cassandra Knight: 25 years. I’ve been at Strong for 6 years. I’m a PCT (Patient Care Technician). I started off as a home health aide. They’re not too much different. You just draw blood in the hospital as a PCT.
I belong to 1199SEIU. I am a delegate for the union.
J: Could you describe your work?
C: My morning starts off with getting a report on my patients. I’m usually assigned to 10 or 15 patients/day. About 7:45 or 8:00 you do your vital logs. Their blood pressure, temperate, oxygen, heart rate. Then you do beds and baths and draw blood. If patients get a fever you have to do a culture. Just make sure the patients are doing good.
I work on a specific unit at the Wilmot Cancer Center. That’s my permanent floor.
J: How has coronavirus impacted your work?
C: It hasn’t changed the work too much but it has added to the work. We have to work the extra protective equipment. We wear a full shield mask the whole shift that we are there. A few people did not get it from the beginning because we couldn’t understand why we had to wear one regular mask all day long. That’s not good.
They wanted you to have that one mask for a whole week.
J: Are there coronavirus patients on your side?
C: I think testing has been low on our side. I have heard that there are a lot of people who tested positive. The cancer ward tries to keep people over there because we have those with immune systems that are real low. Not really on my side.
J: What are they doing to keep your side safe?
C: The COVID patients are on a particular side of the hospital and on a particular floor. If they are testing positive they are moving quickly to make safe for other patients.
J: Has it caused any economic hardship for you?
C: No because I’m still at work. Thank god for that. A few people are getting laid off at the hospital and in general.
J: What has 1199 done in response to the crisis?
C: We have gotten a lot of help from 1199. Someone donated over 50 facemasks to help with people who couldn’t get them. Mainly nurses and doctors were getting them. We helped push the facemasks through to employees who weren’t getting them. Somebody from the union reached out to ask for help and we got it.
J: It seems like people are mostly talking of doctors and nurses, what about everyone else?
C: PCTs, environmental service, kitchen workers, people who deal with patients more than the doctors. The PCTs and environmental service workers are in and out of those rooms all day. We deal with the same things. I believe PCTs are closer to the patients than a lot of other staff members. We sit in there for a while and have a conversation while they are taking their shower, making their bed. We have time to get to know the patients a little bit more.
J: Do you think this crisis will lead to a stronger labor movement going forward?
C: I think it should and it will. If you don’t have anyone standing up for the little people you get pushed back like you don’t matter. I think people should really look at the bigger picture. It’s not just about a union, it’s about a voice. Little people don’t have a voice. If you don’t have a voice you will never be heard. You will always get the backlash and sitting in the back like you have done nothing to get appreciation like everyone else when you are basically doing the same work.
J: Family and union are healthy?
C: Yes, thank God. 1199 in Rochester is relatively healthy too.