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Nursing-Home Workers Announce Massive Strike Plan For Fair Contract, Better Staffing

By Stephen Gossett in News on Apr 27, 2017 4:40PM

Greg Kelley (Photo: SEIU Healthcare)

Thousands of nursing home workers in the Chicagoland area will go on strike within a week as they seek to shore up a fair wage, equitable on-the-job treatment, better staffing to support patient care and a permanent contract. The strike—which would see some 5,000 workers walk off, affecting more than 50 nursing-home facilities, according to SEIU Healthcare Illinois—would be largest, most wide-ranging of its kind, union representatives said.

Greg Kelley, President of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, told reporters at a press conference on Thursday morning that nursing-home workers have been working in excess of a year without a contract, but negotiations have still yet to produce results. "We’re declaring that enough is enough," Kelley said. He said that nursing-home owners want to operate a payment structure that can leave workers—the majority of whom are women of color—with sub-minimum wages.

Workers will strike on May 4 unless an agreement is reached prior to that date. "This is not a veiled threat. We will strike," Kelley said.

Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, joined other the officials and nursing-home workers "in solidarity." "Less than minimum wage is not fair. Less than $15/hour is not fair," she said. Lewis, of course, is battle-tested in the ways of labor demands, having gone toe-to-toe with the mayor in contract negotiations for the teachers union.

Workers say that wages have remained stagnant even as the owners net windfall profits, more than $1 billion per year, SEIU argues.

Nursing-home worker Francine Rico said she still makes less than $15/hour even after 19 years on the job. "A decent day of work deserves a decent day of pay," she said. Worker Marilou Garcia said she has trouble making ends meet despite working two jobs and holding three certifications.

Earlier this month, State Sen. Daniel Biss, a candidate for Illinois governor, penned a Sun-Times opinion arguing for better wages and against the current nursing-home revenue model. He wrote in part:

"Most nursing homes are for-profit companies, and their profit comes from taxpayers. More than half of their revenue comes from Medicaid and Medicare. But because their business model includes paying workers so little that they depend on public assistance to get by, the public is subsidizing these companies twice."

Francine Rico (Photo: SEIU Healthcare)

Karen Lews (Photo: SEIU Healthcare)