ROCKFORD – A Rockford nursing home is first on a list of 40 facilities that will be picketed by a health care union May 8.
Representatives from SEIU Healthcare Illinois say they will strike at Alden Debes Manor, 550. S. Mulford Road, for what the organization says has been “weeks of putting their lives at risk on the coronavirus frontline.”
Union spokesmen say nursing home owners have refused to provide improved personal protective equipment (PPE), enhanced safety protocols, appropriate hazard pay and base compensation. They also say owners won’t provide sufficient paid time off for coronavirus-related illness and refuse to increase staffing levels, protect workers’ healthcare coverage, and be transparent about COVID-19 cases and risks at their facilities.
The say their only option now is to strike, to protect themselves and the vulnerable residents in their facilities.
“My coworkers 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,” said Francine Rico, of Villa of Windsor Park. “My sister who works with me has tested positive for COVID-19 and I have other coworkers who have it, too, and we don’t even know how many residents have it. We are being forced to risk our lives for poverty wages. That’s why we’re going on strike for our lives and the lives of our residents.”
The SEIU Healthcare Illinois workers are calling for a short-term, one- year contract that would set a wage floor of $15 per hour for all workers and $16 an hour for CNAs. It would also provide for a 50% hazard pay bonus during the current and ongoing emergency period.
Additionally, the workers are calling for an additional 80 hours of paid sick leave for COVID-19 or related illnesses and for provisions for continued health care coverage for any vulnerable workers who have to take leave from their job to protect themselves and their families. The workers also call on their employers to provide adequate PPE and safety training and ask that employers assist workers in gaining access to testing and any emergency benefits being made available to essential workers.
In recent weeks, workers have delivered dozens of letters to management, made public appeals through online videos, petitions and media interviews, and conducted multiple group meetings with supervisors all with the goal of convincing nursing home owners to address their concerns during this unprecedented time of crisis.
On Monday, workers delivered strike notices to management at 40 facilities—with a strike date set for next Friday, May 8th. Nursing home owners have over 10 days to address frontline workers’ concerns to make their facilities safer and avoid the strike.
“Nursing home workers are facing a life-and-death crisis and owners have failed to address this crisis responsibly—despite workers and residents’ families and the public calling upon them to do just that. That is why workers have called a strike. And that is why they are ready to strike for their lives,” said Greg Kelley, president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois.
The current contract covering the 40 facilities is set to expire on May 1. At the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, workers were hopeful that the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities would agree to a one-year agreement reasonable accommodations to address the extreme risks and challenges workers claim they face as a result of working on the frontlines of a pandemic.
Alden Debes did not return calls for comment.