Nursing home workers at 11 Chicagoland facilities to strike

Workers at 11 Chicago-area nursing homes owned by Infinity Healthcare Management will go on strike on Labor Day.

The strike is currently planned to last one day. Infinity nursing homes in Niles, Oak Lawn, Cicero, Bloomingdale, Itasca, Momence and Streator, as well as four within Chicago city limits, will be affected.

The striking facilities collectively have the capacity for 2,380 patients, according to their websites and U.S. Health News.

Infinity nursing home employees entered negotiations for a new contract on May 23. The workers, who are represented by SEIU Healthcare, are seeking a new wage scale with higher planned raises, as well as higher staffing levels and new paid holidays including Juneteenth.

Contracts at Infinity Nursing Homes were last renegotiated in 2020. Workers went without a contract from May to December of that year, embarking on a 12-day strike in December.

At the end of the 2020 strike, workers and management settled an agreement for a new contract including raises of at least $1 per hour for all workers, $2.50 hourly pandemic pay, five sick days a year and personal protective equipment.

This time, workers have dubbed Monday’s action “Strike for Our Lives,” alleging unfair labor practices at nursing homes operated by Infinity.

People pass by the Ambassador Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, along the 4900 block of North Bernard Street in Chicago, on Aug. 31, 2023.

Employees on the bargaining committee allege that bargaining has taken place in bad faith, according to the union, and that they have been threatened with retaliation while on the job. The union also said that some employees have been barred from attending bargaining sessions.

“(Workers) tried to reason with the managers and owners of Infinity to say no, we’re not getting paid right, no we’re not getting respected on the job, and we’re short-staffed,” Jaquie Algee, director of external relations at SEIU Healthcare, said at a Thursday news conference.

Short staffing has also been an issue at all 11 Infinity nursing homes planning to strike, the union said last week.

Ambassador Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, located in Albany Park, will be among the striking facilities. As workers prepare for Monday, supporters gathered outside early Thursday afternoon.

Ambassador declined to comment on the upcoming strike. Infinity Healthcare Management was not immediately available for further comment.

Many preparing to strike at Ambassador and other Infinity facilities were front line workers during the early COVID-19 pandemic. April Hudson, a certified nursing assistant who has worked at Ambassador for four years, remembers going to work during polar vortex blizzards, walking through unshoveled streets to check on patients. During winter spikes in infection rates, staff members often got sick while working with residents, Hudson said.

“I treat them like they’re my aunties, my uncles, my grandma, my grandpa,” Hudson said.

Ambassador’s website advertises 140 staff members to the facility’s 190 beds. However, Hudson said that on the overnight shift, patients outnumber CNAs at Ambassador at a ratio of 15 to 1.

The facility saw a 93% turnover rate this year, state Sen. Natalie Toro, D-Chicago, said at the news conference.

“That is overkill, overkill, and it is making my body old before my time,” Hudson said.

Hudson told the Chicago Tribune that high turnover has created a more contentious work culture since the last contract negotiation period. Along with asking for more respect from leadership, she hopes ongoing negotiations will affirm seniority among nurses who have worked at Infinity homes for a long time.

“The work culture needs to be better for their workers, to make them feel like they’re at home, because we’re basically risking our lives to take care of patients,” Hudson said. “We run the facility, if you wanna be technical about it. We make sure the residents are clean, the residents eat, they get their clothes together.”

Infinity employees’ reactions to the strike vary, Hudson said. Some of her co-workers aren’t in favor of a strike at all, while others feel management are trying to intimidate them into coming to work on Labor Day.

As of August, two Infinity nursing homes in Illinois — City View Multicare Center, as well as West Suburban Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Bloomingdale — are on a federal watchlist for nursing homes with a history of serious quality issues.

A third, Continental Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Budlong Woods, was fined in 2016 after five residents overdosed on heroin.

Monday’s action will be the third health care strike in Chicago this summer. About 200 workers at Loretto Hospital in Austin went on an 11-day strike on July 31.

The employees, also represented by SEIU Healthcare, reached a new contract agreement as a result of the strike, including wage increases for all employees and paid time off on Juneteenth.

On Aug. 22, 530 nurses at Ascension St. Joseph Hospital in Joliet were locked out by Ascension during a four-day strike. The nurses, represented by Illinois Nurses Association, protested short staffing, low wages and poor working conditions, amid ongoing contract negotiations.

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