Strike by 6,000 Illinois nursing home workers averted

The workers, most of whom are in the Chicago area, hammered out a two-year contract that includes a $15 minimum wage.

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SEIU Healthcare nursing home workers threatened to strike over working conditions during the pandemic.

SEIU Healthcare

As coronavirus outbreaks continue to ravage long-term care centers across the state, a strike has been averted for 6,000 nursing home workers who threatened a work stoppage at 64 facilities starting Friday.

The workers, members of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, announced a tentative agreement Thursday on a two-year contract that includes a $15 minimum wage for all workers, hazard pay during the pandemic, additional sick days and provisions ensuring that employees are not required to work without adequate equipment to protect themselves from the virus.

During a virtual news conference Thursday, Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois Indiana Missouri & Kansas, noted that nursing homes have become “hotspots” where COVID-19 has spread rapidly and said the agreement will help “safeguard the safety” of both the workers and residents.

Francine Rico, a certified nursing assistant at Villa at Windsor Park in South Shore, told reporters that supplies are still limited at her facility, where 91 staff members and residents have tested positive for the coronavirus. Fifteen of them have died, according to data compiled by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

“Our members are still needing to use gowns and raincoats and use your mask for a week,” said Rico.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill, bemoaned essential workers like Rico having to re-use protective gear, faulting the “complete failure” by the federal government to control the supply.

“When we call people essential workers — we say they have to go to work — then it is really the responsibility in this pandemic that we get them the materials and the protection that they need,” said Schakowsky, who has introduced legislation to bolster protections for nursing home residents and workers amid the pandemic. “It is one of the most infuriating, unacceptable things that I have ever heard of.”

Schakowsky noted that 44% of COVID-19 deaths in Illinois are attributable to long-term care facilities and lauded the workers for taking a stand to further protect themselves and their patients.

The Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities, which represented the nursing homes in negotiations, said: “While negotiations have ended, this insidious virus has not. We are grateful a walkout was avoided, and that our heroic staff members will continue caring for our vulnerable seniors as we fight this battle together.”

The agreement covers more than 10,000 members of SEIU Healthcare who provide care to residents at more than 100 nursing homes. SEIU Healthcare is an investor in Sun-Times Media.

Kelley said he hopes the contract will be ratified by next week. 

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