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With strike averted for now, nursing home workers rally in Detroit

Kate Wells/Michigan Radio

With the end of a 30-day contract negotiation period with nursing home operators nearing, a group of a few dozen nursing home workers, health care employees, and union leaders rallied in Detroit on Monday, both to call attention to ongoing labor disputes and to encourage workers to vote in November. 

The gathering comes less than a month after astrike was averted, with SEIU Healthcare Michigan saying more than 1,000 workers in nursing homes were prepared to walk off the job over issues around fair pay, paid time off, health insurance, protective equipment, and safe staffing levels. 

Ciena Healthcare, which operates eight of the facilities involved in the pending strike, filed a temporary restraining order blocking workers from protesting on the properties. Governor Gretchen Whitmer stepped in, citing the potential harm a large strike could cause, and asking both sides to negotiate for 30 days.  

Progress so far has been mixed, says Andrea Acevedo, president of SEIU Healthcare Michigan.

“It would differ between the situations between the different employers, of where we're at and (the) status. We're hopeful we can get to a contract with Ciena. Our workers are fully engaged in talking to their whole entire units and throughout the Ciena properties. And we're hopeful that we can get to an agreement. But others, we’re a little doubtful on how we can achieve a fair contract right now during a global pandemic,” she says. 

In a statement last month, a spokesman for Ciena Healthcare is “confident agreements can be reached that address the issues raised by SEIU and the needs of management so that the focus of all will continue to be caring for our residents.” 

Meanwhile, union organizers are hoping to use both the local and national momentum built during the pandemic to fuel a strong, Democratic voter turnout in the presidential election.

Leaders say it’s a natural culmination for the community of mostly Black women (who they say make up a majority of long term care workers in the greater Detroit area) simultaneously facing the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice and an economic crisis. 

“When Black Lives matter and are treated with dignity, respect and equality, we all do what we do best,” Melinda Mo’Nae Rawls, a nursing home worker with Omni Continuing Care, told a small, socially-distanced crowd in front of the Spirit of Detroit statue. “Right now, everyone's suffering from all the multipronged crises: corporate greed, systematic racism, unchecked police brutality, and a public health crisis. And our communities of color are the ones who are hit and devastated... 

“...So remember, we're going to use our voices through our votes. And how we do this is how we're going to do this. If we're going to organize our communities, get out and register people to vote, and empower our family and coworkers to join the fight for racial and economic justice, by voting for change.”


Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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