Nursing home workers are about ready to strike

SEIU MEMBERS bring an informational picket to the street in front of BRIA of Cahokia. – Labor Tribune photo

Four years without a raise

Illinois Correspondent

Cahokia, IL – How long has it been since your last raise? A good little while, you say?

Well, what if it were four years without a raise. What would you want?

How does 15 cents an hour sound? That’s what about 95 union workers at a nursing home here are being asked to accept, along with some reduced contract rights. They’re not happy, and the region may soon see its second big nursing home strike in as many years.

Last year, the Service Employees International Union found a similar number of its members facing similar treatment at Christian Care Home in Ferguson, MO. After a strike of 104 days – right through the holidays – the workers won a contract with guaranteed raises, the company paying for health insurance rate increases, prompt payouts for unfair labor practice and grievance settlements, and some new respect for seniority in job placements.

Now, some of the same SEIU Healthcare folks are working with the employees of BRIA Cahokia, a highly profitable home that agreed to a contract with the workers four years ago and has done its best to ignore it ever since.

“We’ve been without a contract here since August. We started negotiations back in June. There hasn’t been a wage increase here in four years, and that only happened because it was a new contract,” said Nick James, a Midwest bargaining representative who worked through the Christian Care dispute and now is working with the BRIA members. “They actually haven’t had a raise other than that one contract in the past nine years.”

The only reason the company entered negotiations is the union’s successful filing of an Unfair Labor Practices case. The company did set up a de-certification election last October, which employees rejected, and which led to another labor practices cases against the company, for intimidation.

“They were pressing employees to vote no, having successive one-on-one conversations with people,” James said. “It was just a mess. And they haven’t shown any movement since November.” The company wants the union to give up its hard-won arbitration clause, too.

The union held an informational picket at the home on busy Jerome Lane near Interstate 255 on Monday, April 9, bringing a noisy combination of union activists and nursing home employees out to chant and cheer along the street.

“I… I believe!… I believe that we will win! Union! Union! Union! Union!” they cried.

One of the leaders was Brenda Davis, a seasoned veteran of the Christian Care strike.

“My place here today is to support my brothers and sisters here at BRIA Cahokia,” she said in an interview. “They’re dealing with pretty much the fight that we just got through fighting. And we won that fight!

“Sometimes it takes a little while,” she added. “It’s scary at times. It’s not an easy fight. But the only way you’re going to get over it is that you’ve got to step out and do what you have to do to get what you need.

“If you are scared, you’ll never get anything,” she added. “You’ve got to stand out, and standing out together is what did it at Christian.”

One of those representing the BRIA employees was Tamekia Campbell, who started out quietly but gained confidence as she spoke. “We’re tired of being treated unfairly,” she said. “We’re tired of not having a contract. The employers have really been unfair to us.

“If they give us what we want, we’ll give them what they want,” she went on. “If they want respect around here, they have to give it to us. And that’s not what we’re getting right now. We’re going to do what we have to do from this day forward.”

BRIA owns 13 homes, mostly in the Chicago area, and the union is considering a coordinated action against three of them, including Cahokia.    

“Nobody wants a work stoppage,” James said. “But we have to move the employer. We’ve tried everything we have. It should not be this big of a deal. It’s insane after not having a raise for four years.”

Davis and James described how support from other unions was the crucial factor in winning the Christian Care fight.

“We just got a lot of support from other unions, and that’s what it took, to be honest,” James said, noting that members of Teamsters Local 688, Machinists District 9 and Painters District Council 58 were especially helpful with food and financial gifts plus emotional support.

As if on cue, Local 688 member Mike Marquardt, a Cahokia resident, then showed up at BRIA to stand tall and wave an enormous American flag.

“This is where it starts,” he said. “This is my area, so I’ll stop by here when I can. It’s like I tell everybody – if you don’t stick up for them, what makes you think they’re going to stick up for you?”

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