SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.

Nursing home workers strike over unfair labor practices

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Westland — Workers at the Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing home on Monday walked off the job over what they called unfair labor practices during a pandemic. 

Essential workers at the home off Newburgh Road say they are working without a contract and without enough personal protective equipment to stay safe. They also want better staffing levels and higher wages.

Workers at Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing walk off the job Monday morning, stating unfair labor practices, in Westland, Michigan on October 19, 2020.

After agreeing to hold off striking for 30 days in August, it's now back on, they said. 

The home is part of a chain where workers represented by the SEIU Healthcare Michigan union are negotiating a contract. 

"Governor Whitmer said it best: 'With COVID-19 cases in Michigan on the rise, we cannot allow our most vulnerable patients to lack vital care.' But nursing home owners have refused to come to an agreement that would equip us to provide the care our residents deserve," said Carolyn Cole, a worker at the home, in a statement released by the union.

"We’re going on strike because if our workplace isn’t up to standard, it’s the residents who suffer."

The nursing homes involved in the effort include the  Charles Dunn chains. Calls to them were not returned Monday. 

Ciena Healthcare and Villa Healthcare facilities are not included in the strike and reached an agreement with union members last week, the facilities said on Monday. 

At 6 a.m., a group of workers gathered along Newburgh Road to march and chant. Workers inside the building walked off the job to join the picket line. A Facebook live video shows workers as they marched in the dark. 

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, showed her support for the workers by making an appearance at the strike, tweeting: "The intimidation & racially-charged bullying is disgusting & must stop. Workers deserve a contract."

Workers protested in shifts, planning to stay outside of the nursing home until 6 p.m. Monday. Workers say they will continue to strike until a deal is made. 

"We're here until it starts snowing if he doesn't give us a deal," said Ken Haney, the executive vice president of SEIU. 

Haney said the union and Dunn were in negotiations until 10 p.m. Sunday, but talks ended when Dunn refused to give in to the workers' demands. 

Some of those demands include better health care and more premium coverage, and increased wages for the certified nursing assistants, who say they've had to do more work during the pandemic. 

"We've all just been working all over the place and we're just tired. He can't keep staff because of the pay ... but you'll have me as a CNA doing a two- to three-person job, and it's not right," said Iyone Pruiett, a CNA at Four Seasons Nursing Home. 

Haney said Dunn is violating the union contract by direct bargaining and offering members an extra $1.25 a day to not strike. 

"He's creating violations against the National Labor Relations Act, against the contract by implementing wages without negotiating with the unions, changing working conditions without negotiating with the unions," Haney said. "We're still willing to go to the table, but it has to be on the terms and conditions that these employees, these members are saying they want."

As the pandemic hit Michigan earlier this year, workers inside some of the state's hardest hit nursing homes rationed protective gear, went without COVID-19 tests and struggled to care for seniors who carried a deadly virus.

Mashala Pate with SEIU,  Service Employees International Union, on the sidewalk in front of the Four Seasons Rehabilitation and Nursing where workers have walked out stating unfair labor practices in Westland, Michigan on October 19, 2020.

About a third of the 21 nursing homes that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's administration selected to care for elderly individuals with COVID-19 at the pandemic's peak appear not to meet new quality standards under a revamped policy.

On Sept. 30, Whitmer announced an executive order to establish "care and recovery centers" to replace her "regional hubs," existing nursing homes across the state tapped to care for people with the virus who are discharged from hospitals or reside in facilities that can't properly isolate them.

The Legislature and Whitmer are still working out details and trying to come to an agreement. Whitmer's handling of nursing homes has been a topic of heated debate for months. About 32% of Michigan's 6,781 COVID-19 deaths have been nursing home residents, according to state data.

A sign on the side door of Four Season Rehabilitation and Nursing where workers have walked off the job, stating unfair labor practices in Westland, Michigan on October 19, 2020.

In Detroit, where the COVID-19 virus has devastated communities of color and the majority of nursing home workers are Black women, workers aim to draw attention to racial justice disparities inherent to their fight.

“COVID-19 just reinforced what the Black women who work in nursing homes have always known — these homes put profits over people,” said Izella Hayes, a worker at Imperial Nursing Home in Dearborn Heights, in a statement.

“As long as owners continue to treat us like we’re expendable instead of the heroes we are, we’ll continue to stand up for what’s right: a living wage so we can afford to get healthcare just like we provide it, and proper safety protocols and guaranteed PPE throughout the pandemic.”