** STRIKE BACK ON **
After 30-Day Negotiation Period Supported by Gov. Whitmer, Detroit Nursing Home Workers to Strike
Workers Demand Nursing Home Owners Deliver On Resident Safety, COVID Protections, Fair Pay
DETROIT — Essential nursing home workers across metro Detroit, who had agreed in August to delay their planned strike by 30 days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged SEIU Healthcare Michigan and nursing home chains to negotiate toward a fair contract, delivered notices Thursday of their intent to strike starting October 19, just over two weeks out from Election Day.
“Governor Whitmer said it best: ‘With COVID-19 cases in Michigan on the rise, we cannot allow our most vulnerable patients to lack vital care.’ But nursing home owners have refused to come to an agreement that would equip us to provide the care our residents deserve,” said Carolyn Cole, a worker at Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing. “We’re going on strike because if our workplace isn’t up to standard, it’s the residents who suffer.”
After weeks of negotiations in which for-profit nursing home chains Ciena, Villa and Charles Dunn refused to reach fair solutions, workers are calling on owners to improve staffing levels to ensure quality care for residents, provide adequate PPE for the duration of the pandemic, pay frontline workers a living wage, and take responsibility for the crisis of COVID-19 within nursing homes.
“Detroiters deserve safe communities and good jobs. Yet nursing home owners failed to protect us from COVID-19 when it arrived, and they’re still up to the same tricks seven months later,” said Mary McClendon, a worker at Ambassador Nursing Home. “We’re going on strike over unfair labor practices because more than 2,100 lives could have been spared in Michigan nursing homes alone, if only owners had taken meaningful action. Just like we’ll use our power at the polls to vote out a president who failed to keep us safe, we’re joining together to demand the protection we need on the job.”
Nursing home workers — from certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to housekeeping, laundry, dietary, environmental and office staff — who have risked their lives to care for the elderly and immunocompromised throughout the pandemic said they voted to strike on behalf of themselves and their families, to whom they fear passing along the virus, as well as residents and their families.
“Individually, we’re just workers, but together we are strong. We’re using our strength to make Detroit a place where everyone can thrive,” said Melinda Mo’Nae Rawls, a worker at Omni Continuing Care. “No one should have to fear infecting their loved ones after a long day at work, or that their loved ones’ care facility might turn into a virus hotspot.”
In Detroit, where the COVID-19 virus has devastated communities of color and the majority of nursing home workers are Black women, nursing home workers aim to draw attention to racial justice disparities inherent to their fight.
“COVID-19 just reinforced what the Black women who work in nursing homes have always known — these homes put profits over people,” said Izella Hayes, a worker at Imperial Nursing Home. “As long as owners continue to treat us like we’re expendable instead of the heroes we are, we’ll continue to stand up for what’s right: a living wage so we can afford to get healthcare just like we provide it, and proper safety protocols and guaranteed PPE throughout the pandemic.”
Whitmer steps in
During the 30-day negotiation period, nursing home workers met with Gov. Whitmer in a Zoom town hall to share stories of the entrenched issues within the nursing home industry and chart a vision for worker-centered solutions.
Workers who participated in the discussion then sent a letter to Gov. Whitmer in follow-up, sharing their experiences of nursing homes being hit full-force by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were faced with so many unforeseen challenges — working without proper PPE or COVID-19 testing; the necessary communication from operators we need to be aware of potential dangers within each home; and lower staffing which strains our ability to provide quality patient and resident care in our homes,” the letter reads.
“Despite these conditions, we haven’t turned our backs and continue to face these risks, putting our lives on the line to ensure that residents have the best care possible,” it continues. “This is why we’re proud to call ourselves heroes, why we’re standing strong in this contract fight, and not backing down until we win the protection, respect and pay we deserve.”
Workers requested the Governor’s continued support while pointing out that nursing home owners refused to negotiate fair terms during the requested period, and the majority of facilities have not yet reached agreeable solutions. Owners “continue to treat us as though we’re dispensable, refusing to offer fair wages and protections we know we need and deserve,” the nursing home workers write.
Nursing home industry under fire
For-profit nursing homes have drawn renewed scrutiny in recent months, as COVID-19 data have shown nursing homes as consistent hotspots for the virus nationwide and accusations have surfaced of nursing homes misusing billions of federal aid dollars allocated through pandemic relief packages. But problems in the nursing home industry go deeper than its coronavirus response.
In Michigan, 69% of nursing homes represented by Villa have received a one- or two-star rating from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Villa’s Michigan homes have received 30 federal penalties and almost $600,000 in fines over the last three years.
And while a third of Ciena homes have performed poorly on CMS quality and staffing metrics, Ciena CEO Mohammad Qazi is reported to be developing a $377 million condominium project in Midtown Detroit. Qazi paid $1.25 million in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements in a healthcare fraud case settlement in 2007 and lost a whistleblower case with $705,000 awarded to the plaintiff in 2011.
Workers in Detroit will strike at the following nursing homes, sorted by ownership:
Regency at Taylor
St. Joseph’s, a Villa Center
Villa at City Center
Villa at Great Lakes Crossing
Imperial Nursing and Rehabilitation
Nursing home contractor at Villa homes
Fountain Bleu Health and Rehab (LPNs and Service Units)
Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing
Omni Continuing Care
Regency at Westland
The Manor of Farmington
Nursing home employees rise up, demand owners #ProtectAllWorkers
Detroit workers’ strike vote followed months of advocacy, protests, and strikes on the part of nursing home workers nationwide who are committed to doing whatever it takes to secure health, safety and economic protections. They’ve launched demands for government and facility owners; testified in essential worker hearings in North Carolina, California, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida; and joined the Strike for Black Lives on July 20 to show how the fights for racial and economic justice are linked and have become even more urgent in the wake of a national reckoning on racial justice and the current public health emergency ravaging the country.
“I’m ready to go on strike because I’ve seen firsthand how Black folks in nursing homes — both residents and workers — have borne the brunt of COVID-19, yet our employer has failed time and time again to do what they need to do to protect us,” said Toyai Anderson, a certified nursing assistant at Hartford Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, in July. “I’m Black when I go to work and I’m Black when I come home to my community — I deserve dignity and respect in the workplace as well as in the streets. It’s time to come together as workers and win both economic and racial justice.”
Detroit nursing home workers have been vocal throughout the pandemic, speaking out about unsafe conditions for workers and residents alike. In June, SEIU Healthcare Michigan memorialized the 1,900 nursing home residents and 20 workers who have passed away from COVID-19 with an action on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit, a historic site where nursing home workers organized and took action to demand better working conditions in the 1980-90s. And nursing home workers rallied at the Spirit of Detroit on Labor Day, underlining the importance of November’s presidential election by declaring “My Vote Is Essential.”
As a result of nursing home workers taking action, SEIU Healthcare Michigan union steward Trece Andrews was named to Gov. Whitmer’s Michigan Nursing Homes COVID-19 Preparedness Task Force, representing frontline workers across the state who have been impacted during the pandemic.
The task force is charged with analyzing relevant data on the threat of COVID-19 in nursing homes, making recommendations to the governor on improving data quality and releasing periodic reports to the governor on its findings and recommendations.
“I bring a perspective from the front lines of the nursing homes that industry and government officials don’t necessarily have,” Andrews said. “Workers are responsible for executing any safety measures. If you don’t include us in the decision-making process, even the best safety measures will fall short. I will bring this perspective to the task force.”