• Monica Cruz

Nursing Home Workers Win Big


Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times This week, nursing home workers narrowly avoided a statewide strike and won historic pay raises in Pennsylvania. A stunning 13,000+ nursing home residents and workers died from the coronavirus in the state. Meanwhile, workers endured poverty wages, staff shortages, and terrible conditions, which have all been plaguing the homes for decades. Hear from Kim Jackson, a 20 year-long licensed practical nurse who was set to go on strike this week at a nursing home in Pennsylvania.

PLUS: Striking coal miners from the Warrior Met Mines in Alabama take their picket line to the front door of the company’s biggest investor, again. The UMWA members have entered their fourth month on strike and have been subjected to escalating violence at the picket line, including multiple vehicular assaults. Host Monica Cruz joins them at their massive rally this morning at the headquarters of BlackRock investment services in Manhattan.

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[ROUGH TRANSCRIPT] Host: Pennsylvania nursing home workers win big after narrowly avoiding a strike. Plus striking Alabama miners return to New York City to take their picket line back to BlackRock.

Every day workers across the globe are rising up to defend their humanity and fight for their dignity on the job. At a time of both record poverty and record profits. Hearing the billionaire bosses have created the very circumstances for workers to lose their fear and demand everything that they deserve as the class struggle advances, the stories of workers are front and center here. This is on the picket line and I'm your host. Monica Cruz.

Clip: 13,000 people in our communities have died because of delays in actions and misplaced priority.

The pandemic has highlighted the issues and some of our states nursing homes and long-term care facilities, and a group of lawmakers and community leaders are putting out a call for action to help protect workers

Host: You just heard a report by WPIX news from last month, detailing the terrible conditions at nursing homes in the state of Pennsylvania. This week over 1500 nursing home workers with sci IU, health, healthcare, Pennsylvania, just narrowly averted, a day long strike, and one historic pay raises caregivers at 53 facilities across the state, all reach tentative agreements by Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the one day strike was set to take place. In addition to this major victory for their contracts, nursing home workers also saw a huge win in public policy. Last week, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf's office announced a proposal to increase the required time of care for residents to the federally recommended minimum of 4.1 hours a day for almost 25 years. Nursing homes in the state were only required to provide 2.7 hours of care to each resident daily, a standard that experts and workers alike have called dangerous.

These nursing homes have been facing a staffing shortage crisis for almost three decades, Pennsylvania department of health audits in 2016 and 2019 found that the state consistently failed to address staffing shortages or to penalize homes that were short-staffed. So of course, once COVID hit, the conditions of these homes got even worse quickly instead of using federal funds to aid the already crippled nursing homes. One of the first moves the Wolf administration made was to waive care requirements and allow homes to operate. Even if they fell below state required staffing levels, a Spotlight PA report found that the 50 homes with the lowest staffing hours in the state were twice as likely to have at least one coronavirus-related death than the 50 homes with the highest level of staffing hours. And of the 68 nursing homes where 20 or more residents had died as of June 8, 2020, only eight met or exceeded the federal staffing recommendation.

The report also found several concerns with the process for nursing home inspections, including the fact that inspectors are often not properly trained and can sometimes be a bit too “cozy” with management. When the pandemic hit and conditions at the homes worsened, routine inspections were halted. The state conducted inspections at facilities, struggling the most with infection control issues. Majority of these inspections were done virtually and inspectors rarely reported any problems. At least 33 inspections were carried out specifically in response to complaints about the virus, but the state said it found no issues at these homes. Despite the fact that majority of these homes had seen multiple resident deaths. I spoke with Kim Jackson, a 20 year long licensed practical nurse who was set to go on strike this week at her nursing home in Pennsylvania.

Kim Jackson: I mean, we were frontline workers all this time working with COVID. Some people didn't even see any COVID money. Some workers didn't see any of that. And we do know that that the nursing homes did get money from that. So as a result, some of them were a little angry, which is well deserved for them to be angry because they didn't even get COVID money. When we were the ones working the whole time, you know, in the COVID units and taking care of sick people and watching our residents die and watching our coworkers die and, and every day going to work. And you're just, it was just such a feeling, a feeling of hopelessness

Host: Workers with SEIU Healthcare PA have been begging the state for relief funds. So the homes can hire more staff and improve wages. They were finally heard last month when the state legislature passed a budget allocating $247 million for the state's nursing homes. Kim Jackson described these wins as just the first step to making the state's nursing homes more equitable to workers and residents alike.

Kim Jackson: This is only phase one, so we have to work and work and work to make sure that we get that through. And so, as a union and as healthcare workers, nursing home workers, we're going to fight for that. And we're also going to fight for a fair and equal contract so that we can go to work knowing that our families are fed.

Host: Low pay is a huge concern for nursing home workers everywhere as the starting pay for most positions is near or at the minimum wage. These poverty wages combined with the abysmal con