How Hotel Workers Got Eligibility and Access to the COVID-19 Vaccine

March 10, 2021 12:43 PM

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Over the last week and a half, there have been two major developments related to the COVID-19 vaccine. First, hotel workers are now eligible to receive the vaccine in New York and will be eligible by the end of the month in New Jersey. Second, our Union will soon be able to efficiently distribute the vaccine to our New York City members through our own healthcare system.

Attaining eligibility and increasing access to the vaccine took tremendous effort. It required convincing the State to recognize what is clear: that hotel workers are essential front line workers who put themselves in danger of infection every time they show up to work. It required forcing the hotel industry, which is already in dire financial straits, to pay $2.5 million to reopen closed health centers and recall medical staff to distribute the vaccine. It required persuading the City to increase the number of scarce vaccines that go to our health centers to be used for hotel workers.

While hotel workers deserve access to the vaccine, if they hadn’t been able to act collectively and magnify their voice through the megaphone of a union with a strong political program, they would not have it today.

Barriers to Getting the Vaccine

As most of you know, the Food and Drug Administration has now approved three vaccines. These vaccines, developed by Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson, have undergone rigorous testing and have proven to be extremely effective and safe. Without exaggeration, these vaccines will save millions of lives and end the pandemic. These vaccines are what will allow us to return to normalcy.

In December 2020, with the approval of these life-saving vaccines on the horizon, our Union’s top priority quickly became getting the vaccine for our members. But we faced three major obstacles: (1) eligibility, (2) access, and (3) supply.

Winning Eligibility for Hotel Workers

Generally, eligibility is limited to individuals who are particularly vulnerable to the disease (due to their age or underlying health conditions) and who work in certain essential jobs (like health care workers or first responders). Our Union’s goal was to have hotel workers among the eligible workers.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued recommendations for which individuals to vaccinate first, ultimately each state has the power to decide how to distribute the limited supplies of vaccines.

So, starting back in December, our Union directed our attention to the states, initially with a letter from HTC President Rich Maroko making the case that hotel workers should be immediately eligible for the vaccine. His argument was straight to the point: our members are front line, essential workers who have been working throughout the pandemic and who often work in close contact with high-risk groups, including out-of-area travelers who are required to quarantine and other high risk populations like COVID positive patients, front line medical staff, and the homeless.

This advocacy campaign continued and intensified for the next several months.

Finally, on February 26th, New York Governor Cuomo agreed to President Maroko’s requests and announced that hotel workers would be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Soon thereafter, New Jersey Governor Murphy announced that hospitality workers who live or work in New Jersey will be able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine beginning on March 29th.

Schedule an Appointment to Receive the Vaccine:

State and local governments are distributing limited supplies of the vaccine now.

Hotel workers (and New York City club and restaurant workers) can try to schedule an appointment directly through New York State, New York City, or New Jersey, by visiting the government websites below to find a list of local openings:

New York State: https://am-i-eligible.covid19v...

NYC: https://vaccinefinder.nyc.gov/

New Jersey: Pre-register on the state’s website: https://covidvaccine.nj.gov/ 

Come March 29th, you can search for local appointments by visiting: https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/covid-19-vaccine-locations-for-eligible-recipients

Better Access: Distributing the Vaccine at our NYC Health Centers

It has been particularly hard to schedule an appointment to get the vaccine in New York City, where population density is high and, in the words of the mayor, there is a “profound problem” of privileged New Yorkers accessing the vaccine at higher rates. Across the city, people like our members – working people and Black and Brown New Yorkers – have been unable to access the vaccine even when they are eligible.

To help solve this problem in New York City, we have set up our own vaccine distribution system through our health centers to supplement the government’s existing system. Just this past week, President Maroko signed an agreement with the Hotel Association in which the industry agreed to pay approximately 2.5 million dollars to reopen the Harlem and Brooklyn health centers for the singular purpose of distributing the vaccine and recall any health care professionals needed to administer the vaccine.

With this agreement in place, we will be able to vaccinate laid off members from hotels covered by the Industry-Wide Agreement or Division A contract and members at participating clubs as soon as we receive more vaccines from the City.

The Last Remaining Bottleneck: Limited Supply of Vaccines

The last barrier to vaccinating our membership is one that is beyond our control: the limited supply of vaccines. Available vaccines are distributed to health centers like ours by New York City’s Department of Health. Mayor de Blasio and New York City officials have been receptive to our requests for more vaccines, but the fact remains that there are only so many doses available. As soon as we are able to secure more doses, we will text, email, or call eligible members to sign up for an appointment. If you haven’t already, make sure you sign up to receive union text and email alerts. For now, please do not call the health centers to schedule an appointment. In order to make this process easier and seamless for our members, we will reach out to you as soon as we have enough vaccines.

Our Plea to You: Get Vaccinated

“On a personal note, I strongly encourage each and every person who is eligible to get vaccinated,” urges President Maroko. “By getting the shot, you not only protect yourself, but you will be doing your part to protect your family, your coworkers, and to end this pandemic for us all.”

More resources:

If you want to try and get vaccinated now, you can visit these state and city websites for a list of local openings:

New York State: https://am-i-eligible.covid19v...

NYC: https://vaccinefinder.nyc.gov/

New Jersey: https://covidvaccine.nj.gov/ and https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/covid-19-vaccine-locations-for-eligible-recipients

Sign up to receive union text alerts:

If you want to wait until our Benefit Funds have enough vaccine doses and get vaccinated at the health centers, make sure you sign up for union text and email alerts here.

Read more information about the COVID-19 vaccine, its safety, and its effectiveness from the following experts:

Our Benefit Funds: https://www.hotelfunds.org/qa-...

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/coronaviru...

The Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/cor...