By TIM ROWDEN
Frontline staff at Riverview Care Center have filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a formal union recognition election to join SEIU Healthcare Missouri.
Announcing the move Sept. 3, outside the nursing home at 5500 S. Broadway in St. Louis, workers detailed anti-union actions taken by management in an attempt to interfere with their campaign to gain a voice on the job and a seat at the table in decision making at the facility.
The workforce at Riverview is comprised of cooks, dietary aides, activity assistants, LPNs, CNAs, restorative aides, and others who have courageously served their residents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, providing quality care through one of the most challenging and deadly times to be working in nursing homes in America.
Despite their efforts, workers report a lack of dignity and respect from management and no avenue to have their concerns about safety and needed support heard.
In response, workers started organizing with SEIU Healthcare Missouri to win collective bargaining rights through formal union recognition to address their concerns.
ILLEGALLY FIRED ORGANIZERS
Management responded by firing eight workers in what the union says was a direct act of retaliation against their union activity – an illegal move by management, if proven – and hired agency workers making as much as $23 an hour to replace them, when their own employees haven’t gotten raises in five years. Unfair Labor Practice charges are pending.
“These workers have a right to unite; they have a right to form a union. They have a right to have their voices heard, to stand up to fight for better raises, fight for better PPE, fight for transparency during this time with COVID testing,” said SEIU Healthcare Missouri Union Representative Paula Jones.
Jones said Riverview management has posted flyers inside the facility telling workers that a union is not in the best interests for the company.
“But they have not said anything about what’s best for the workers,” Jones said. “These workers have been working here five-plus years and haven’t received a raise.”
RIGHT TO ORGANIZE GUARANTEED
Meeting with workers in a small park across from the nursing home, Jake Hummel, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, told workers their right to collectively bargain is guaranteed by the Constitution and that the AFL-CIO would stand with the workers in their effort to join a union.
“You can’t be fired for that,” Hummel said. “Once you sign that authorization card, management cannot retaliate against those people. We’re here with you.
“The most important thing is we can do is to provide wages and benefits for these people and make sure that they’re provided a clean and safe workspace. Our members are here to make sure that they can put food on the table for their families. They have to be able to go to work and go home in a safe manner so that they’re not bringing something home to their families.”
State Rep. Steve Butz (D-St. Louis) said he was stunned by management’s actions.
“I’m shocked in this day and age that this could even be an issue,” Butz said. “For anyone to lose their job right now, it’s insane. My mother is very disabled, very elderly. She’s not in this facility, but she needs 24 hour care, and I know the care that her nurses give, it’s essential, beyond essential. The people that work here are essential workers.”
LACK OF LEADERSHIP
St. Louis Alderwoman Sarah Martin, Alderwoman (11th Ward), called on Riverview’s owners and management to reinstate the fired workers.
“It’s just amazing to me that we don’t value the workers, often those who are taking care of our most vulnerable, our grandparents. It’s just incredibly sad that anyone who is taking care of the folks that we care about so much is having to fight so hard,” Martin said. “These workers are being intimidated; they’re being retaliated against.”
Martin said blame for the nursing home’s actions should be shared with state leadership for its lax response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re seeing a true lack of leadership in the state right now,” Martin said. “So many people, sadly, in these types of homes are passing away because we have leadership in the state that’s not willing to provide PPE or demand protections. They’re too worried about protecting employers, instead of the employees.”
RIGHT TO ORGANIZE
Ninth Ward Alderman Dan Guenther said it was time for Riverview management to treat their employees like the essential workers that they are.
“These are the essential workers who come in and put their life on the line to take care of our elderly and our most vulnerable citizens,” Guenther said. “When they’re not given the respect that they deserve, and they’re not given the opportunity to return home and bring a safe environment back to their homes because of the conditions that they’re placed in, it’s their right to unionize; it’s their right to organize.
“On behalf of the City of St. Louis, we stand with organizers, we stand with the union and demand that our businesses protect our essential workers and protect the people who are taking care of our most vulnerable. We demand that they be rehired, and demand that their effort to unionize be supported.”
‘WHAT THIS FIGHT IS ABOUT’
Lenny Jones, SEIU Healthcare Missouri state director and vice president, said it’s important to remember what the fight is about.
“This nursing home has had residents who have died of COVID and they don’t tell us. This nursing home has had workers who have been sickened with COVID, and they don’t tell us,” Jones said. “You’re going into areas where you’re putting your lives and your health at risk, you’re putting your family’s lives at risk.
“That’s truly what this fight is all about. If you’re essential workers, you need to get paid like you’re essential workers. It is a crime for any nursing home to put workers in a situation where you’re at risk. It’s a crime for a nursing home to go out and hire replacement workers who are making $23 an hour where you haven’t gotten a raise in five years.”