By Sheri Williams
Healthcare workers across the state are protesting corporate owners of skilled nursing facilities for allegedly failing to hire enough staff to provide adequate care.
Across the state, members of SEIU 2015 have been holding informational pickets to draw attention to both particular employers and an industry that is struggling to hire people—largely due to low wages and poor working conditions.
“They have been violating safety regulations, and one of the biggest things is they’re causing dangerous understaffing,” said Carmen Roberts, executive vice president of SEIU Local 2015, to media of Brius Healthcare, an operator that runs multiple skilled nursing facilities.
Union workers say staffing levels are dangerously low in some facilities.
With the pressures of the pandemic combined with low wages and often poor working conditions, many workers are leaving their jobs in the skilled nursing industry. According to the American Health Care Association, more than 200,000 workers left in industry nationwide in 2022. That is causing a crisis of care as the population of the United States continues to skew older and more elderly people require care at a time when fewer workers are available to give it.
Currently, only about 16% of nursing home workers across the country are in unions. But a recent study found that nursing homes with unionized staff may provide better care. A study published in Health Affairs found that there were more that 10% lower COVID-19 death rates during the pandemic for residents in unionized nursing homes. Staff were also safer. The same study found that infection rates for staff were nearly 7% lower than in non-unionized facilities.
The effort to unionize nursing homes may gain traction in coming week since the federal government is expected to release new staffing standards that will place more pressure on care facilities to hire more staff. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are working on a proposal that would cover staffing requirements and other regulations for nursing homes and President Joe Biden has specifically called out the industry as one where union jobs would benefit both customers and workers. California already has nursing home staffing ratios, but many facilities apply for and are granted waivers from the state.
The push to draw attention to nursing homes comes as healthcare workers are fighting to pass a bill that would raise the minimum wage in their industry to $25 an hour in California. That bill, authored by Los Angeles Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, is working its way through the Legislature.
That bill has passed the Senate and is now being considered by the Assembly.
“Raising the minimum wage for healthcare workers will help California hospitals retain staff who were considering leaving due to the skyrocketing cost of living and ongoing emotional toll of the pandemic,” Renèe Saldaña, spokesperson for SEIU California, told media.