Workers at 40 Illinois nursing homes set to strike May 8

Nursing home workers at 40 Illinois facilities intend to strike May 8, as they seek a short-term one-year contract and greater protections amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the union that represents them.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois said workers delivered strike notices to management at 40 facilities on April 27 and will strike as planned May 8 unless owners address front-line workers' concerns. Those concerns include what workers say is a refusal to provide improved personal protective equipment, enhanced safety protocols, appropriate hazard pay and base compensation. They also contend owners won't provide sufficient paid time off for illness related to the coronavirus and refuse to boost staffing, protect workers' healthcare coverage, and be transparent about the COVID-19 situation at their facilities.

"My co-workers and I have told our management that we need more PPE and we need to know who has the virus in our facilities so we can help keep everyone safe but they seem more focused on protecting their profits than protecting people," Francine Rico at Villa of Windsor Park in Chicago said in a news release.

The workers are negotiating with the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities on a new labor deal. SEIU Healthcare Illinois said the current contract covering the facilities expires May 1 — and workers seek a one-year agreement amid the pandemic that would set a wage floor of $15 per hour and $16 an hour for certified nursing assistants. The workers also seek a 50 percent hazard pay bonus during the public health crisis, as well as an additional 80 hours of paid sick leave for COVID-19 or related illnesses, continued healthcare coverage for workers who need to take leave and adequate PPE and safety training.

The Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities said it has offered an 11 percent one-year pay increase, stable employee health insurance contributions, earlier access to sick days, paid sick time as well as contractual sick leave, creation of a training fund, among other things for nursing home workers, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In a statement to Becker's Hospital Review, Bob Molitor, CEO of the Alden Network and a board member of the association, wrote that the strike threat is troubling amid this offer. "SEIU union stewards [are calling for] front-line nursing home employees to abandon elderly and infirm residents during a pandemic and our residents' greatest hour of need," he said. "A substantial 11 percent pay raise will bring the vast majority of our union workers above $15 an hour, but SEIU instead wants to use a crisis as a negotiating tactic. Directing our heroic nursing assistants, dietary, activity, laundry and housekeeping employees to walk out now is unthinkable, and IAHCF urges the union to come to the table and negotiate in good faith." 

SEIU Healthcare Illinois claims more than 10,000 workers at 100 nursing homes. The 40 nursing homes where strike notices were delivered are primarily in the Chicago area, including 10 in the Alden Network and four Symphony Care Network facilities. 


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