Nursing Home Workers Win Wage Gains with Credible Strike Threat

Source: Leah Fried, Labor Notes, May 26, 2017

After close to three years of negotiations, stickers and leaflets weren’t getting the boss any closer to a fair agreement. The master contract covering 10,000 nursing home workers in Illinois had been expired for two years and extended several times.

Management was insisting on a wage freeze until Illinois overcame its budget impasse and increased Medicaid reimbursements. Long-term workers were languishing at minimum wage, even when their employers had begun offering higher wages to entice new hires.

Meanwhile, staffing was dangerously short. Often a certified nursing assistant was forced to care for 20 or more residents in an eight-hour shift—bathing, feeding, and assisting them at a furious pace. On top of keeping the nursing home clean, a housekeeper had to collect meal trays for hundreds of residents because there weren’t enough dietary aides.

To win a new agreement, it was clear that workers would need to be prepared to strike.

But their local, Service Employees (SEIU) Healthcare Illinois-Indiana (HCII), hadn’t ever waged a strike over its master nursing home contract. In fact, the last time there was a nursing home strike at any of these facilities was in 1979. The local’s previous contract campaigns had been lackluster. Mobilization had been limited to stickers, petitions, and a practice picket.

And giving each nursing home the organizing attention it needed now was a huge challenge. The bargaining unit covers 28 different employers and 103 facilities statewide…..