The Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities said today that it will offer higher wages and COVID hazard pay to nursing home workers, who have threatened to go on strike May 8 over issues regarding pay, staffing and a lack of personal protective equipment to guard against COVID-19.
Under the offer, certified nursing assistants would see a $2 raise in their base wages, plus an additional $2 in bonus pay for the remainder of the pandemic. The Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities is negotiating with Service Employee International Union Healthcare Illinois, which represents more than 10,000 workers at 100 nursing homes.
Union negotiators have rejected the offer, according to a representative for the nursing home association.
"A strike will further exacerbate the staffing strain caused by COVID-19 and may compromise the ability of some nursing homes to meet the critical needs of their residents," Bob Molitor, a board member of the nursing home association and CEO of Alden Network, said in a statement.
Union workers at 64 nursing homes across the state, with most of them in the Chicago area, approved a May 8 strike date. SEIU has said nurses work long hours for low pay, and often lack personal protective equipment. Nursing homes have been a significant COVID hot spot, with WBEZ-FM/91.5 reporting that nursing homes accounted for 44 percent of all coronavirus deaths in the state.
SEIU Healthcare Illinois has previously demanded pay increases, hazardous pay during the COVID-19 pandemic, better access to personal protective equipment and better sick pay and paid time off provisions in the contract, which ended on April 30. The union has said it is prepared to strike starting at 6 a.m. on Friday.
The nursing home association said that starting wages for nursing assistants have been raised from the current $13.50 and hour to $15.50, with other Chicago staff wages rising from $13.10 to $15 an hour.
Non-nursing assistants at long-term care facilities outside Chicago would see starting wages rise from $12.10 an hour to $14.50, IAHCF said in its statement. All SEIU Healthcare Illinois nursing home workers would get the $2 bonus pay.
Union officials were at the bargaining table and not immediately available for comment, an SEIU spokeswoman said today. On Monday, SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Greg Kelley said the union is seeking a minimum of $15 an hour for all employees, including for those outside Chicago.
"We want nursing home owners to put their money where their mouth is and actually show how important these workers are in this moment," he said.
IAHCF said that in addition to wage hikes, it has agreed to other concessions and will make more sick days available and create a training fund, among other things.
"We have continued to improve our offer, but the union has rejected a package that increases the hourly rate 30 percent, when a $2-per-hour COVID-19 bonus pay for all members is factored in," said Molitor of the IAHCF. "A walkout is unconscionable."
When asked about the possibility of a strike, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state has "encouraged both sides to reach an agreement."
"I think that they know that they must reach an agreement to make sure we're taking care of our seniors," he said.
This article was originally published in Crain's Chicago Business.