Some 1,600 workers from 18 Detroit-area nursing homes will go on an all-day, all-shifts, indefinite strike on August 17 to demand an end to what they say are “poverty wages,” inadequate personal protective equipment, and dangerously low levels of staffing, according to the union SEIU Healthcare Michigan.
More than 2,000 nursing home residents and 22 staff members have been killed during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to state data.
“Workers at 18 homes across metro Detroit — all but two of which are represented by for-profit nursing home chains Villa, Ciena, Charles and Dunn — are calling on owners to rightsize staffing ratios that put residents at risk, provide adequate PPE for the duration of the pandemic, pay frontline workers a living wage, and take responsibility for the crisis of COVID-19 within nursing homes,” an SEIU statement released Friday said.
“I've been there 20 years, and I can honestly tell you that I'm barely at $15 an hour,” said Trece Andrews, a laundry worker and caregiver at Regency at St. Clair Shores. “And there are some people that are only making $11, and dietary [workers], housekeeping, laundry, some of them are only making $12. So it’s really a poverty wage.”
Andrews says her employer also put staff “in harm’s way” during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We didn't even have proper PPE for the longest time,” she said. “And even though they have PPE now, we have to go ask for it, it has to be distributed. It should be available at the door. Plus, they didn’t inform us who had COVID. We might have come into contact with several people who had it, and we’ve got family members at home that have underlying conditions. We take care of my dad, and he has cancer and he’s diabetic. So it’s very scary.
“They didn’t it handle it right. They weren’t testing us at first. They were only testing the residents...they’re testing us now, but like me, I haven’t gotten the test results back yet. It’s been two weeks.”
Ciena Healthcare, the company that owns this facility, did not respond to a request for comment.
In a press release about the upcoming strike, the union said the majority of nursing home workers are Black women.
“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, quoted in the press release.
A list of the nursing homes where staffers will participate in strikes is available on the union's website.