“You want us to come in and work, put our life on the line but you don’t want to give us what we need,”
– Jerome Williams, Infinity Healthcare CNA.
Around 700 workers in 11 nursing homes run by Infinity Healthcare Management are entering their second week on strike. The workers, who are part of SEIU Healthcare, are demanding higher wages, hazard pay and better staffing. They are also demanding PPE, which is in short supply and could mean life or death for the elderly as well as for the workers. Many of whom are women, and they are overwhelmingly people of color. These sectors are disproportionately represented among essential workers, and are also disproportionately underpaid and treated as expendable.
Roslyn Regans has worked at Lakeview Nursing and Rehab Center for 15 years. She is a cancer survivor and in a high risk category for Covid-19, as her immune system is still compromised. Yet, she continues to go to work day in and day out, without hazard pay and for obscenely low wages. “We are striking right now. It’s the last thing we wanted to do, but we resorted to it because we couldn’t reach an agreement with one of the owners… We are very short staffed right now. Even before the pandemic we were short-staffed. And we’re short staffed because of the wages we are making.”
The base pay at the homes owned by Infinity Healthcare Management is $13.30. Regans, who has worked at the center for 15 years, only makes 17.35 dollars an hour. Workers are demanding a two dollar raise, but the company is refusing. Infinity Healthcare Management is owned by Envision Healthcare Corporation which is in turn owned by KKR & Co. Inc., a private equity firm which posted a profit of $1.06 billion and is worth $21.7 billion on the stock market. KKR pays its billionaire executives upward of $200 million, and the CEO of Envision earns in excess of $7 million a year — and in 2016 made over $21 million. There is plenty of money for the executives of these companies but little for the workers.
Regans explains that Infinity “got 12.7 million dollars from the federal government and refused to give us any of it. He got that off the sweat of us. Our hard labor.” The payment was part of the CARES Act, but the workers haven’t received a permanent raise. At first, workers got hazard pay, but in July, hazard pay stopped. And if you called out sick, you forfeited your hazard pay.
Right now, Regans is working with patients who have Covid in the building.
The 11 nursing homes that are affected by the strike include City View Multicare Center in Cicero, which had 249 coronavirus cases, and Niles Nursing & Rehabilitation in Niles, which had 54 Covid-19-related deaths.
Infinity-run nursing homes are notoriously short staffed due to the low wages provided. Janice Hill, who has worked at City View Multicare Center in Cicero for 12 years makes $14.10 an hour and cares for 33 residents during her night shift. “The poverty wages that nursing home workers are paid creates a downward spiral where no one wants to work at a nursing home, which creates a staffing crisis and forces good workers to leave.”
Regans explains, “I have had up to 24 residents by myself. You cannot give quality care to that many residents. It’s impossible. You could be the best CNA in the world, but you can’t give quality care to 24 residents.”
On Mondays, doctors and nurses joined the nursing home caregivers on the picket line.
“It is unconscionable for workers to not have the PPE that they need to protect themselves, so they can provide quality care to the residents of these homes,” said Paul Pater, a registered nurse and chief steward for the Illinois Nurses Association at University of Illinois Hospital.
“This particular nursing home network appears not to want to pay the living wage to attract workers … to take care of patients. So I’m here today to support these front-line heroes, and to say it’s not enough to call them heroes, but they must get a living wage as well,” said Dr Peter Orris, professor and chief of occupational and environmental medicine at University of Illinois Hospital.
Nursing home workers are among the essential workers who have been consistently under-paid and forced to work in the most hazardous conditions. Their labor, blood, sweat and tears create the profit for CEO’s who are hiding away in their summer homes at the beach or in the Hamptons: the leeches who suck all the profit from workers and patients are not essential. They aren’t even around. The nursing home workers deserve 15 dollars an hour — and much much more. They deserve staffing ratios that allow them to do their jobs: to care for the elderly in this horrible time when many are cut off from seeing family for fear of the virus.
Nursing homes, like the entire healthcare industry should not be private commodities: these should be public services, free and accessible to the whole population. And they should not be run by private corporations who only have profits in mind but by patients, their families and workers.
Solidarity with the striking nursing home workers.