Dozens of Oak Park nursing home workers ready to strike May 8

Workers at Oak Park Oasis and Berkeley Nursing demand hazard pay, higher wages, more

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By Michael Romain

Staff Reporter

Workers at 40 Chicago area nursing home facilities, including two in Oak Park — Oak Park Oasis, 625 N. Harlem Ave. and Berkeley Nursing & Rehab Center, 6909 W. North Ave. — could go on strike on May 8 to demand higher wages, hazard pay and adequate staffing levels. 

"This crisis is not new," said Greg Kelley, the president of SEIU Healthcare Illinois, which represents the frontline workers, who include receptionists, cooks, nursing assistants and other employees. 

"Our members have been working in difficult circumstances for a long time," Kelley said. "They've been underpaid, overworked and understaffed. COVID-19 has brought this reality to the forefront. It's made a difficult job a dangerous job."  

The workers delivered the strike notices to facilities on Monday. Kelley said the vote to authorize a strike was "overwhelming."  

According to a worker at Oak Park Oasis who requested anonymity, 51 frontline workers at the facility plan on going on strike on May 8. Workers at Berkeley reached by phone on April 29 could not comment on the pending strike.  

The worker at Oak Park Oasis, however, confirmed that they're experiencing conditions similar to Tamika Haynes, a certified nursing assistant at Alden Debes Manor in Rockford.  

"I've been on the job for 17 years and make only $16.76 an hour," she said during a videoconference on April 29. "In most professions that require training and experience, you expect to get decent wages as the years go by. Not us. We're just getting deeper in the hole. And I have a lot of coworkers who make less." 

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, as of April 24, there have been 15 reported cases of COVID-19 and four deaths at Oasis Oak Park. The state did not show any reported COVID-19 cases at Berkeley. 

In a statement released April 27, SEIU officials said the union members' contract covering the 40 facilities is set to expire May 1.  

"Workers were hopeful that the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities would agree to a one-year agreement with modest and reasonable accommodations to address the extreme risks and challenges workers now face as a result of working on the frontline of a pandemic," according to the statement. 

The workers are calling for $15 an hour and $16 an hour for CNA's; a 50 percent hazard pay bonus for working during the pandemic; an additional 80 hours of paid sick leave for COVID-19 or related illnesses; better training; more personal protective equipment; and "provisions for continued health care coverage for any vulnerable workers who have to take leave from their job to protect themselves and their families." 

Kelley said that a federal mediator has gotten involved in the negotiations.   

"Today is our first virtual face-to-face negotiation for some time," Kelley said during Wednesday's videoconference. "We've indicated that we're prepared to meet as often as necessary to avoid a strike. As someone who has been on the strike line a bunch of times in normal circumstances, going out on strike isn't easy. Going out on strike during pandemic is infinitely more difficult." 

Kelley said the union is "prepared to do what's necessary over the next nine days to avert a strike," but that the union is serious about the workers' demands. 

Bob Molitor, the CEO of The Alden Network of nursing homes who sits on the board of the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities, wrote in a letter to state lawmakers that the association "offered an 11 percent one-year pay hike, stable employee health insurance contributions, earlier access to sick days, paid sick time during the pandemic in addition to contractual sick leave, creation of a training fund, and more for certified nursing assistants, dietary, activity, laundry and housekeeping employees," according to an April 27 Chicago Tribune report. 

"We sincerely hope the union is not using this once-in-a-lifetime crisis to incite a walk-out and put our seniors at even greater risk," Molitor stated in the letter.

First District Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson, whose district covers Oak Park, said during Wednesday's videoconference that he stands with the front-line workers.

 "We are as elected officials are calling upon the nursing home owners to settle this contract with the provisions that are needed to safeguard the workers and the residents," Johnson said.  

"The majority of nursing home workers are African-American, black women in particular. It's clear that the higher risk factor of COVID-19 are people within my district. The black community that has borne the brunt of not just this crisis, but others … We are calling on the leadership of these facilities do what's right by workers." 


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Reader Comments

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Alice Caputo  

Posted: May 4th, 2020 4:33 PM

An 11% raise may sound generous unless you are making $15.00 an hour then it's only a gross increase of $1.65 per hour. Perhaps the union is using this opportunity to use leverage that they have lacked in the past. Even if true, they are amateurs compared to the State of Illinois' disgusting attempt to get a pension fund bailout wrongfully blaming the pandemic.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2020 4:32 PM

The whole article sounds like a lot of greed with some seniors in the middle trying to get cared for. Eleven percent didn't sound like a bad offer though. Don't get older, it doesn't end well.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: May 4th, 2020 3:01 PM

None of what you said here changes the greedy nature of most nursing home operators, Tom.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: May 4th, 2020 12:48 PM

Tom MacMillan read the story about nursing homes that are finding it more profitable to get rid of the patients in exchange for making a lot more money. Nursing homes is the last place a person wants to end up in this the workers have always been paid low wages. Increase the wage and you open up a better market of trained individuals instead of just warehousing people and collecting from whatever insurance is paying for it. Read the change in Los Angeles about nursing home profiteers

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 4th, 2020 12:36 PM

Well Bill, a generous 11% pay bump is offered, but some people are trying to take advantage of a situation while the elderly tenants are at risk. The workers here have a job that pays what they are worth. Maybe all the current workers need to go somewhere else and find their dream job for more pay based on their skills. But a walk out at this moment puts a lot of elderly tenants in a really tough spot and they are the only victims who matter. I do not love or overly want to defend The Alden Network, in fact they seem pretty lame, but these seniors are in places they can afford and you get what you pay for. The focus is protecting seniors in a tough situation at a critical time, nothing more matters.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: May 4th, 2020 9:57 AM

Do a little research, MacMillan. You'll find the nursing home owners are mostly multi-millionaires profiting off a grossly underpaid workforce. And I believe you're confusing nursing home workers with Trumps gun-toting NRA nut jobs in Michigan and Oklahoma.

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: May 3rd, 2020 11:12 PM

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 3rd, 2020 7:22 PM

Holding a gun to the heads of a bunch of seniors at their greatest moment of need, because an 11% pay bump is not enough?

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