CHICAGO, Ill. — Nearly 700 nursing home workers walked off the job across the Chicago area Monday, going on strike after they say contact negotiations with provider Infinity Health Care stalled over COVID-19 hazard pay.
For eight long months, the nursing home workers have experienced the emotional toll of this pandemic firsthand.
“I lost not just one, more than three people I loved so much, who up to this day we go in their rooms and think they were once there,” said one Lakeview Nursing & Rehabilitation employee.
Members of the SEIU Health Care Illinois Union who are employed at 11 Infinity-owned facilities in the greater Chicago area walked off the job before dawn Monday.
Employees want a $15 minimum wage, saying they are paid significantly less than other nursing home workers in the city. They say the company also suspended pandemic pay in July, even after receiving $12.7 million in federal CARES Act funding.
“They’re asking for proper PPE, hazard pay for everyone now just a few and paid sick time off if they get COVID,” the SEIU’s Shaba Andrich said.
According to the SEIU, two Infinity facilities lead the state in the number of reported COVID-19 cases and deaths. City View Multi-Care Center in Cicero has the state’s highest number of reported COVID-19 infections and Niles Nursing and Rehab Center has the highest number of deaths.
“I am being asked to risk my life and infinity won’t give me a living wage,” said Shantonia Jackson, a City View Multicare Center employee.
After working without a contract since June, workers said they walked off the job after negotiations came to a standstill. Union leaders say the company did hire replacement staff to cover shifts at their 11 nursing homes during the strike.
Infinity Health Care did not respond to requests for comment as of Monday evening.
Rosalind Reggans works at Lakeview Nursing & Rehabilitation, and says short staffing is another big issue. Reggans said each registered nurse is being asked to take care of 25-30 residents.
“I think it’s terrible; to me it adds insult to injury because you come in here every day, you’re sacrificing your life,” Reggans said. “We lost a lot of residents, I would say close to 40 some residents.”
SEIU Healthcare’s Erica Bland-Eurosinmi said workers would strike “as long as it takes.”
“Their health is on the line, their livelihood, families’ health is on the line,” Bland-Eurosinmi said.