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Minnesota nursing home workers conduct historic strike

A large crowd of people carrying signs that say "Nursing Home Workers on Unfair Labor Practice Strike" stand by a statue in front of the Minnesota State Capitol as a woman in a red sweatshirt prepares to speak.
MNA First Vice President Shiori Konda-Muhammad stands behind a megaphone in front of a crowd of striking nursing home workers at the Capitol Tuesday. (CBJ Photo/Jasmine McBride)

More than 1,000 Minnesota nursing home workers from 12 nursing homes conducted a one-day Unfair Labor Practice strike on Tuesday, the largest such strike in state history. They rallied at the Capitol, where they were joined by janitors and nursing assistants.

“We are here for $25 an hour [minimum wage]. For a retirement plan. For health insurance we can afford for our families. For staffing so that we can stop these mandates, these doubles–working 20 to 30 days in a row,” said President of the Minnesota chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Jamie Gulley. “The bosses are scared of the power that we have when we come together. We are 1000 workers of 12 nursing homes coming together today. But we need unions in every nursing home in this state. We need unions for all of the janitors for all of the retail workers and the meatpackers. We need unions for all. We're gonna show those in power that we're not going to stop until we get what we need.” 

The SEIU has been negotiating for a better contract since October. Nursing home workers say they are not satisfied with their starting wage of $15.50 per hour, excessively expensive health care plans, and the understaffing that occurs as a result.

SEIU member Nessa Higgins says even after more than two decades of dedication to her career, she still feels her compensation doesn’t reflect the value of her time.

A rally sign held up in front of the Capitol reads "Nursing Home Workers on ULP Strike"

“I’ve done this work for 25 years as a CNA [Certified Nursing Assistant], CMA [Certified Medical Assistant] and a culinary worker, and I currently only make $21.50,” she said. “They didn't even want to give us that. They offered us 20 cents [wage increase] - they didn’t even want to give us a dollar! That is why we have a worker shortage that is not only hurting workers, but is also hurting our residents–because there aren't enough of us to provide the care that your parents and your grandparents need.”  

Higgins says she hasn’t been able to save for retirement because of her low wages. 

“Y'all know how it feels when you go home and your feet are tired, your back is aching, and you’re working a double shift–and still got to get up the next day? But then we got all these people behind desks, pushing pen and paper and getting $50,000 bonuses when that money should be coming back to us. It never trickles down.” 

Meanwhile 4000 janitors across 100 buildings in the Twin Cities are wrapping up a three day Unfair Labor Practice strike. They joined their nursing home counterparts at the Capitol, demanding better wages and healthcare, and a retirement plan.

“We have brothers and sisters that have worked in the janitorial sector for more than 40 years, and they don't have anything in their pockets to retire,” said Vice President of SEIU Local 26, Eva Lopez. “We deserve more, we need retirement. So we're here supporting each other. And we're here in solidarity to support each other but also for a better future for us and our families.” 

The Minnesota Nursing Association [MNA] also joined SEIU in solidarity. MNA First Vice President and North Memorial Hospital ICU Nurse Shiori Konda-Muhammad said that proper compensation of nursing home workers not only benefits the nursing homes, but the hospitals as well.

“One thing I learned from working in ICU is that the care of the patient does not end there. We need safe and quality care in nursing homes, so that patients don't bounce back to the hospital. We as a society are not doing right by the most vulnerable members if we don't provide a high quality continuum of care. Your patients deserve better. You cannot provide safe and quality care if you are understaffed, overworked, or burned out. You cannot provide safe and quality care if you are losing your co-workers because they are burnt out. And you deserve better pay and better benefits to yourself and your family,” said Konda-Muhammad.

The SEIU was told at the rally that it has support at the legislature. Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, a registered nurse, said she is committed to advocating on behalf of nursing home workers. House Majority Leader Representative Jamie Long said it's time for the those workers to see some of the $300 million that the state gave to Minnesota nursing homes last year.  

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