Front-line workers at Blue Circle nursing home have been in negotiations for more than six months
By TIM ROWDEN
Six months into negotiations with no progress on a new contract, members of SEIU Healthcare, Missouri’s largest health care workers union, protested outside Blue Circle Rehab and Nursing last week in support of employees’ demands for a $15 minimum wage and better health protections.
They were joined by St. Louis Treasurer and mayoral candidate Tishaura Jones, and James Page, executive director of the Downtown Neighborhood Association and candidate for 5th Ward Alderman.
“Healthcare workers have been on the front lines of this Covid crisis for a year now,” said Jones, whose uncle died of a COVID-19 infection at a nursing home. “They put themselves at risk every day to come to work to take care of our family members, to give them hope, to care for them, to love them, to hug them. They deserve to be protected, respected and paid for a full day’s work, their essential work. If I have the honor of becoming your next mayor, I am prepared to join forces with SEIU to ensure that front-line workers are safe and healthy.”
Jones, whose mayoral bid has been endorsed by SEIU Local 1 and SEIU Healthcare Missouri, pledged to adopt the union’s suggested reforms including supporting a $15-an-hour minimum wage for all nursing home workers, establishing citywide panel of nursing home workers and managers to set health safety standards and the appointment of a safety ombudsman in the mayor’s office to enforce those standards.
Jones’ campaign also has been endorsed by AFGE Locals 96, 2192 and 3445, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), CWA locals 6355 and 6300, the Firefighters Institute for Racial Equality, UAW Midwest States CAP and United Here Local 74, which represents hotel and restaurant workers.
SPENCER: LABOR FRIEND ALSO
Jones is facing off against 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer, another pro-Labor candidate, in the April 6 mayoral race.
Spencer also has a record of standing up for worker issues, including joining construction and building trades unions raising the alarm for public safety in the long-delayed redevelopment of the Jefferson Arms building in downtown St. Louis, and opposing efforts to privatize St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
She has been endorsed by St. Louis Fire Fighters Local 73 and, like Jones, has received financial support from other locals.
The St. Louis Labor Council has taken an “Open” position in the mayor’s race, meaning both candidates are considered good for Labor.
‘NO RESPECT, NO DIGNITY, NO PAY’
SEIU Healthcare Missouri represents about 4,000 workers, including 25 members who work at Blue Circle, where 21 residents and seven employees have been infected with COVID-19, and three residents have died. Statewide, the virus has killed at least 3,511 nursing home residents in Missouri and 44 workers.
“We have been in negotiations at Blue Circle now for over six months,” said Lenny Jones, state director and vice president of the union. “Nursing home workers have been deemed essential workers, high priority workers who save lives during the pandemic, who took good care of residents. And what do they get in return? Nothing. No respect, no dignity, no pay. Nothing.”
Jones said Blue Circle has refused key demands for wage increases and the creation of a joint Labor-management panel to enforce health protections, offering only to raise the pay of dietary and housekeeping workers to $10.30 an hour – the state minimum wage, an increase from $9.45 in 2020 as mandated by state law – and one-time raises of 5-to-10 cents an hour based on seniority for Certified Nursing Technicians and Certified Nursing Assistants.
“Workers here saved lives during the pandemic, came to work every day. And here we are, a year out in this tragedy, and they are still not getting what’s needed,” Jones said.
Blue Circle Rehab and Nursing is owned by Blue Circle Holding LLC, a limited liability company registered to Mendel Brecher, of New York. Brecher also has an ownership stake in Big Bend Woods Healthcare Center, a nursing home in Valley Park.
‘NOBODY WANTS TO DO THIS’
Napoleon Osby, a CNA at Blue Circle, says he makes $13 an hour, often working short staffed, with inadequate equipment.
“There’s not enough people because nobody wants to do this because of the pandemic,” he said. “Nobody wants to go to work and take a chance on taking something home to their kids and their loved ones that can kill them.
“When I come to work, every last person has a family member that trusts me to come to work and to keep them safe, to be a friend and companion to them,” Osby said. “But when you do it, you don’t even get rewarded with a decent paycheck, unless you take tons and tons of overtime.”
Renee Morgan, who has worked 20 years in the laundry department at Blue Circle, says employees haven’t received a raise in years.
“We care about these people that are in there,” she said. “We come in, we work hard every day, nobody even cares.”