DETROIT (WLNS) — Essential nursing home workers across metro Detroit, who had agreed in August to delay their planned strike by 30 days after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged SEIU Healthcare Michigan and nursing home chains to negotiate toward a fair contract, delivered notices Thursday of their intent to strike starting October 19, just more than two weeks out from Election Day.
“We’re going on strike because if our workplace isn’t up to standard, it’s the residents who suffer,” said Carolyn Cole, a worker at Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing.
After weeks of negotiations in which for-profit nursing home chains Ciena, Villa and Charles Dunn refused to reach fair solutions, workers are calling on owners to improve staffing levels to ensure quality care for residents, provide adequate PPE for the duration of the pandemic, pay frontline workers a living wage, and take responsibility for the crisis of COVID-19 within nursing homes.
“We’re going on strike over unfair labor practices because more than 2,100 lives could have been spared in Michigan nursing homes alone, if only owners had taken meaningful action. Just like we’ll use our power at the polls to vote out a president who failed to keep us safe, we’re joining together to demand the protection we need on the job,” said Mary McClendon, a worker at Ambassador Nursing Home.
Nursing home workers — from certified nursing assistants (CNAs) to housekeeping, laundry, dietary, environmental and office staff — who have risked their lives to care for the elderly and immunocompromised throughout the pandemic said they voted to strike on behalf of themselves and their families, to whom they fear passing along the virus, as well as residents and their families.
In Detroit, where the COVID-19 virus has devastated communities of color and the majority of nursing home workers are Black women, nursing home workers aim to draw attention to racial justice disparities inherent to their fight.
Whitmer steps in
During the 30-day negotiation period, nursing home workers met with Gov. Whitmer in a Zoom town hall to share stories of the entrenched issues within the nursing home industry and chart a vision for worker-centered solutions.
Workers who participated in the discussion then sent a letter to Gov. Whitmer in follow-up, sharing their experiences of nursing homes being hit full-force by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We were faced with so many unforeseen challenges — working without proper PPE or COVID-19 testing; the necessary communication from operators we need to be aware of potential dangers within each home; and lower staffing which strains our ability to provide quality patient and resident care in our homes,” the letter reads.
“Despite these conditions, we haven’t turned our backs and continue to face these risks, putting our lives on the line to ensure that residents have the best care possible,” it continues. “This is why we’re proud to call ourselves heroes, why we’re standing strong in this contract fight, and not backing down until we win the protection, respect and pay we deserve.”
Workers requested the Governor’s continued support while pointing out that nursing home owners refused to negotiate fair terms during the requested period, and the majority of facilities have not yet reached agreeable solutions. Owners “continue to treat us as though we’re dispensable, refusing to offer fair wages and protections we know we need and deserve,” the nursing home workers write.
Nursing home industry under fire
For-profit nursing homes have drawn renewed scrutiny in recent months, as COVID-19 data have shown nursing homes as consistent hotspots for the virus nationwide and accusations have surfaced of nursing homes misusing billions of federal aid dollars allocated through pandemic relief packages. But problems in the nursing home industry go deeper than its coronavirus response.
In Michigan, 69% of nursing homes represented by Villa have received a one- or two-star rating from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Villa’s Michigan homes have received 30 federal penalties and almost $600,000 in fines over the last three years.
And while a third of Ciena homes have performed poorly on CMS quality and staffing metrics, Ciena CEO Mohammad Qazi is reported to be developing a $377 million condominium project in Midtown Detroit. Qazi paid $1.25 million in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements in a healthcare fraud case settlement in 2007 and lost a whistleblower case with $705,000 awarded to the plaintiff in 2011.
Workers in Detroit will strike at the following nursing homes, sorted by ownership:
- Regency at Taylor
- St. Joseph’s, a Villa Center
- Father Murray
- Villa at City Center
- Villa at Great Lakes Crossing
- Imperial Nursing and Rehabilitation
Nursing home contractor at Villa homes
- Fountain Bleu Health and Rehab (LPNs and Service Units)
- Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing
- Omni Continuing Care
- Regency at Westland
- The Manor of Farmington