Care of nursing home residents a major concern if workers go on strike amid COVID-19 pandemic

May 7, 2020

When his ailing mother came down with a sore throat and tested positive for the coronavirus, Eric Russell had her transferred from her nursing home in Chicago to a new nursing home in Park Forest.

At 77, Claudette Russell has multiple sclerosis and a heart condition, and is an amputee. Her former home at the Villa at Windsor Park in Chicago’s South Shore is one of 64 nursing homes targeted for a possible strike beginning Friday by certified nursing assistants and other workers. Eric Russell, an activist for the Tree of Life Justice League, was concerned with the care his mother would receive in case the CNAs, as they’re known, walk out.

“CNAs helped my mother stand to her feet,” he said. “They read the Bible to my mother. They feed her. They do all the work at these places.”

Workers for SEIU Healthcare Illinois, which represents some 10,000 workers at 100 nursing homes across Illinois, have voted to go on strike unless there is a new contract. The union on Wednesday said about 4,000 workers could walk out at 44 homes at 6 a.m. Friday, and about another 2,000 could strike at another 20 homes next week.

The Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities continued negotiating with the union Wednesday. Bob Molitor, association board member and CEO of The Alden Network of nursing homes, issued a statement that the nursing homes offered a package to increase the hourly rate 30%, to more than $15 per hour for most workers, when including a $2 hourly COVID-19 bonus pay for all members.

“A strike will further exacerbate the staffing strain caused by COVID-19 and may compromise the ability of some nursing homes to meet the critical needs of their residents,” he warned. “While contingency plans are in place ― including deploying administrators and other non-union employees to essential roles and hiring additional agency staff ― there are only so many wells to draw from, particularly during a pandemic.”

He called a walkout now “unconscionable.”

Union President Greg Kelley issued his own statement that workers are worried about resident care not just during a strike, but at all times.

“Our workers turned to striking as a last resort when management refused to act appropriately to address the issues that are shortchanging workers and residents during this crisis,” he said, “including lack of fair hazard pay and fair base pay and lack of adequate paid time off.”