Chicago-Area Nursing Home Workers Will Get Hazard Pay During The Pandemic Under Tentative Contract

SEIU Nursing Home Workers
Service Employees International Union members gathered last week in front of Wentworth Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, 201 W. 69th St., to announce that nursing home workers at dozens of Illinois facilities had voted to authorize a strike that would have begun Friday. Their union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, has reached a tentative two-year contract that averts the strike. Chip Mitchell / WBEZ
SEIU Nursing Home Workers
Service Employees International Union members gathered last week in front of Wentworth Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, 201 W. 69th St., to announce that nursing home workers at dozens of Illinois facilities had voted to authorize a strike that would have begun Friday. Their union, SEIU Healthcare Illinois, has reached a tentative two-year contract that averts the strike. Chip Mitchell / WBEZ

Chicago-Area Nursing Home Workers Will Get Hazard Pay During The Pandemic Under Tentative Contract

The union for 10,000 nursing home workers in Illinois is declaring victory in contract talks and calling off a strike planned to begin Friday morning as COVID-19 spreads to an increasing number of facilities.

The two-year tentative agreement, which came together in talks late Wednesday, boosts base pay for all workers, sets up hazard bonuses during the pandemic, and expands sick-leave benefits during the crisis.

The deal, which covers about 100 nursing homes, is a “testament to the courage and commitment of workers who were poised to strike … to protect themselves and the residents for which they care during this time of unprecedented vulnerability and risk,” a Service Employees International Union statement Thursday said.

A statement from the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities, which represented the nursing homes in the talks, said the agreement provides “the largest wage hike in our history.”

“We are grateful a walkout was avoided and that our heroic staff members will continue caring for our vulnerable seniors as we fight this battle together,” Bob Molitor, CEO of the Alden Network, said in the statement.

SEIU Healthcare Illinois announced last Friday that its members at 64 nursing homes had voted to authorize the strike.

The IAHCF accused SEIU of trying to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. The union countered that the public-health crisis brought badly needed attention to the workers’ pay and conditions.

The deal, approved by the union’s bargaining committee, must be ratified by the rest of the union’s members.

Those members, mostly in the Chicago area, include certified nursing assistants, housekeepers, dietary aides, laundry workers and activity aides.

The nursing-home association says today’s $13.50 hourly base pay for the nursing assistants will increase to $15.50 during the first year covered by the pact and to $16 in the second year.

For the other workers, according to the association, the starting pay will increase to $15.50 in the second year and geographic-based wage disparities will be eliminated.

The agreement adds $2 an hour in hazard pay for all workers for up to 90 days during the pandemic and adds five paid sick-leave days for COVID-19 conditions including an isolation order, signs of illness and a coronavirus test whose results are pending.

The union statement Thursday said the agreement also includes provisions “ensuring that employees are not required to work without adequate PPE as determined by regulatory agencies for the duration of the crisis.”

Many of the facilities covered by the SEIU contract have faced COVID-19 outbreaks.

Illinois nursing homes account for 44% of the state’s deaths due to the coronavirus, a WBEZ analysis of state public-health data showed last Friday.

“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,” the union statement said.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about criminal justice. Follow him at @ChipMitchell1.