One day before planning to strike, nursing home workers in Illinois win key concessions


May 7, 2020

Thousands of frontline nursing home workers in Illinois have won a tentative yet significant victory after workers reached an agreement with the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities.

The agreement, which still must be approved by rank-and-file workers, was reached on Thursday, May 7. On Friday, 6,000 caregivers at 64 nursing home facilities in Illinois had been prepared to strike.

The agreement is good news for both SEIU Healthcare members as well as residents at more than 100 nursing homes – both nursing home residents and employees have been disproportionately harmed by COVID-19. (SEIU is a CHN member organization.)

Major contract gains in the agreement include:

  • Higher baseline wages bringing all workers above $15 an hour and establishing greater parity in wages across geographic areas
  • Hazard pay for all workers for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis
  • Additional fully paid sick days for COVID-19 related testing, illness or quarantine for duration of the crisis
  • Provisions ensuring that employees are not required to work without adequate PPE as determined by regulatory agencies for the duration of the crisis

“All of the major contract gains will help safeguard the health and safety of workers and the residents for which they care—at a time when both are vulnerable to the risks associated with COVID-19,” SEIU said in a statement. “While residents are at increased risk of the virus due to age and compromised health, workers face increased negative impacts from coronavirus due to their history of poverty wages, lack of paid time off, and the underlying health conditions that often accompany poverty. Additionally, a majority of workers are African-American, and a disproportionate number of African-American lives have been claimed by COVID-19.”

The agreement could not have been more timely; not only were workers scheduled to strike on Friday, but it came during National Nurses Week, which began on Wednesday, May 6 and runs through Tuesday, May 12. And it came the day after another CHN member organization, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, released a report showing that a majority of Illinois’ workers in frontline industries – defined as grocery, convenience, and drug stores; public transit; trucking, warehouse, and postal services; building cleaning services; health care; and child care and social services – are African American and/or Latinx.

The report notes that Illinois has been particularly hit hard by COVID-19 – 60,000 known cases as of Wednesday. And in Illinois, as elsewhere, African Americans and Latinx have been disproportionately harmed.

“Congratulations to the nursing home workers of Chicago for standing up to protect themselves and their patients,” said Deborah Weinstein, Executive Director, Coalition on Human Needs. “Their work is essential, and needs to be recognized in Chicago and nationwide by fair compensation and safe working conditions. This is a great start.”