CHICAGO — “We need more than $13 or $14 an hour to keep up with rising prices,” Sam Brown told Militant worker-correspondents Nov. 23 on the picket line outside the City View Multicare Center in Cicero. Brown, who works in the kitchen, is one of nearly 700 members of the SEIU Healthcare union who walked out at 11 nursing homes throughout the region owned by Infinity Healthcare Management.
The union is demanding a raise of at least $2 an hour for all its members, who include certified nursing assistants, housekeepers and kitchen staff. They also call for equal pay at two of the struck facilities outside the greater Chicago area. The Infinity workers have been without a contract since June.
“The owner says he cares about us, but he’s offering a 20-cent raise. That’s not a slap in the face, it’s a punch,” Jackie Abulebdeh said outside the South Point Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on Chicago’s South Side. For a while the company was giving them a pandemic bonus, “but if you called off one day you lost the COVID pay.” The union says the pandemic pay was cut off in July, even though Infinity got $12.7 million in federal aid to keep workers on the job.
Nursing assistant Amy Poole went straight from working night shift to the picket line when the strike started at 6 a.m. “I’m tired!” she said. “Try being responsible for 64 people all night for $14! I was by myself on the floor.”
“Every day we’re working short,” said CNA Tope Oladele. “We’re risking our lives, and we have to beg for supplies. We have to use the same mask working with COVID patients and with others.”
“We’re not asking too much to want proper PPE,” said Diamond Wright. “They complain we use too many gloves! A lot of people buy our own PPE. And they’re laying off workers!”
Asia Bulley said the company gave her a layoff date of Dec. 2.
“The residents depend on us coming in,” said Reco Hicks, who’s worked in housekeeping for six years and makes $14 an hour, the Chicago minimum wage. “If they could be out here with us they would.”
“This has been too much, for too long,” said nursing aide Hashim Bellay at Infinity’s Ambassador Nursing Center on the North Side. “We’re on the front lines risking our lives for them to make profits.”
Kitchen worker Alma Bonilla said one manager “threatened us, saying, ‘Go ahead and strike. There’s 35,000 people who want your job.’”
In one window, a resident had put up a sign reading, “Pay the people.”