Massive strike at 11 Infinity Healthcare nursing homes enters second week

NURSING HOME WORKERS protest for a new contract that includes better wages and working conditions at 11 Infinity Healthcare nursing homes in greater Chicago.

Pritzker urges both sides to negotiate a deal quickly during pandemic

Crusader Staff report

A week-old massive strike of a Chicago area nursing home company drew support from doctors and nurses as it enters its second week.

The medical professionals on November 30 joined the picket line of Infinity Healthcare Management nursing home workers.

Some 700 workers have been on strike for a week, demanding higher wages, hazard pay, and better staffing. Many of the strikers are Black.

“It is unconscionable for workers to not have the PPE that they need to protect themselves, so they can provide quality care to the residents of these homes,” said Paul Pater, a registered nurse and chief steward for the Illinois Nurses Association at University of Illinois Hospital.

The strike against Infinity Healthcare Management’s 11 nursing homes began November 23. The workers said their contract expired in May, and they have been bargaining for a new one since June.

Aside from better wages and hazard pay, another sticking point has been a lack of personal protective equipment, or PPE, something they said is a matter of life and death, especially during a pandemic.

According to union leaders, Infinity Healthcare received $12.7 million from the Federal CARES Act. Workers feel some of it should be used to compensate them.

“These folks go into an environment every day where they’re at risk and you tell me they’re not worth $15 an hour?” Bob Reiter, Chicago Federation of Labor President told WGN. “All they’re worried about is their bonuses at the end of the year, and we got nothing but we’re the backbone.”

The caregivers said City View Multicare Center in Cicero has the state’s highest number of COVID-19 cases. The workers also said a second Infinity facility, Niles Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, currently has the most coronavirus deaths.

In May, City View Multi Care Center at the time had 164 residents and 41 staff members test positive for COVID-19. Months later, those employees said they were on strike for change.

“This particular nursing home network appears not to want to pay the living wage to attract workers … to take care of patients. So I’m here today to support these frontline heroes, and to say it’s not enough to call them heroes, but they must get a living wage as well,” said Dr. Peter Orris, professor and chief of occupational and environmental medicine at University of Illinois Hospital.

Infinity Healthcare workers and management will meet again at the negotiating table on Tuesday, December 8.

The caregivers are hoping they will leave with an agreement but said they will continue to strike until they get what is fair.

In his press conference Wednesday, December 2, Governor JB Pritzker said he is “monitoring the situation at Infinity Health Care’s 11 Illinois long-term care facilities.

“There are hundreds of SEIU nursing home workers on strike who are asking for the same type of reasonable working conditions that a large number of long-term care facilities around Illinois have already agreed to in their own contracts.

“And given the significant federal and state financial support for nursing homes during this pandemic, it is important that workers see that funding reflected in their workplace, in their safety and their pay.

“It’s very important to me that the owner and the union are able to sit down to negotiate quickly and in good faith so they can get back to the work and the work that matters the most, which is getting our residents safely through this pandemic.”

In response, SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Greg Kelley praised Pritzker’s statement.

“We applaud the governor’s statement. Our members are anxious to get back into the nursing homes to deliver the professional care that residents deserve and have become accustomed to. It’s past time for a fair agreement that starts to lift essential workers out of poverty and gives them all the protections they need and deserve.”

Meanwhile late Tuesday, December 1, an advisory group for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Health-care workers and nursing home residents should be the first to get coronavirus vaccines.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization practices said the first doses of a coronavirus vaccine should be given to an estimated 21 million  health-care workers and 3 million residents and staff of nursing homes, and other long-term-care facilities, a federal advisory panel recommended Tuesday afternoon.

The advisory group said these groups were deemed the highest priority by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, because the vaccine will initially be in extremely short supply after it is cleared by federal regulators.

Because of their exposure to the virus and their critical role in hospitals and clinics, the advisory group said health-care personnel are a top priority.

Long-term-care facilities nationwide account for nearly 40 percent of deaths from COVID-19.

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