Detroit — Workers at 18 nursing homes across Metro Detroit plan to strike this month “over unfair labor practices” during the pandemic.
More than 1,600 nursing home workers plan to join the strike starting Aug. 17, according to the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Michigan.
Workers from the facilities, most owned by for-profit companies Villa, Ciena, Charles or Dunn, demand the homes rightsize staffing ratios they say put residents at risk. They also demand the companies provide personal protective equipment, pay frontline workers an increased wage “and take responsibility for the crisis of COVID-19 within nursing homes,” organizers said.
“COVID-19 showed the public what the Black women who work in nursing homes have known for years — these homes put profits over people,” said Izella Hayes, a nursing assistant at Imperial Nursing Home in Dearborn Heights. “We’re standing up to greedy nursing home owners and demanding safe staffing so that every worker and resident can be treated with the dignity they deserve.”
Villa and Ciena officials did not immediately respond for comment Friday.
The plan to strike comes after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said her office will be “ramping up efforts” to enforce requirements inside long-term care facilities, including nursing homes.
In July, a Detroit News review of inspection reports for the 45 nursing homes with the most deaths linked to COVID-19 found nearly half had been cited in the last four months for failing to follow infection control, isolation or staffing policies.
For months, nursing homes have been at the center of a debate in Michigan during the COVID-19 pandemic. About one-third of the deaths linked to the virus in the state have been nursing home residents.
“My office is prepared to continue our role of enforcing the law as this virus lingers and as Michigan’s most vulnerable populations remain at risk,” Nessel said Thursday.
In Michigan’s long-term care facilities, 7,854 residents have confirmed cases of the virus, another 6,131 have recovered or are recovering.
Since March, 2,024 residents and 22 staff members have died from the virus. Another 3,840 staff members have confirmed cases as of Wednesday, according to state data.
At one facility, an inspector wrote that staff had been ordered not to wear masks in the early days of the pandemic because it would create panic. In others, employees complained of not having access to PPE and not knowing which residents had COVID-19 and which didn’t.
Trece Andrews, a laundry worker at Regency in St. Clair Shores, said it’s no coincidence that thousands have died from the virus in nursing homes.
“Nursing home owners failed to prepare for this virus before it arrived, and failed to protect us once it was here,” Andrews said. “I care for my residents like they’re my family. By going on strike, I’m not just fighting on behalf of nursing home workers — I’m fighting for my residents, too.”
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities will account for one of every three deaths in Detroit, Mayor Mike Duggan said. The city’s workers have held multiple strikes and walkouts in the past five months, but say they have yet to see change.
In the state’s hardest-hit city, where the majority of nursing home workers are Black women, striking workers will draw attention to the racial disparities inherent to the nursing home crisis, organizers say.
“The overwhelming majority of us are Black, and we are being forced to work through the crisis on poverty wages and without sufficient PPE at a time when Black people are getting sick and dying at higher rates,” said Lisa Elliott, a nursing assistant at Regency at St. Clair Shores. “We’re called essential, but we’re treated like we’re expendable.”
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