Nursing Home Workers Win Big After Threatening to Strike: “We Have the Power Now”

CHICAGO—For more than two years, around 10,000 Illinois nursing home workers worked without a new union contract—waiting and agitating for a long overdue pay raise and better protection of their rights on the job. Those rights, they argued, would also improve the care of the ill and elderly in their charge.

Fed up with the owners’ intransigence, 5,000 of those workers announced that they were prepared to walk out. By raising the credible threat of the biggest strike in the history of the U.S. nursing home industry, the union convinced the leading employer alliance in the state—the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities—to throw in the towel at the last minute.

Early this month, the owners agreed to most of the union’s key demands, and the union called off the strike. Later, workers voted, and 97 percent approved the contract.

The workers—members of a large four-state healthcare local of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—seemed happy with their financial gains, even if some thought they deserved more. (SEIU calculates that it represents 25 percent of Illinois nursing home workers and 75 percent of those in the Chicago metropolitan area.)

“It is great. I’m not going to complain,” said Pamela Blecker, whose pay after 17 years as a certified nursing assistant will rise from $11.31 an hour to $13.69 an hour under the new contract. “I think it could have been more, but something beats nothing. I would have wanted $15 an hour. Of course, I was willing and ready to strike.”

– In These Times

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