Workers report high turnover, low staffing, and bounced paychecks among reasons for walkout
Fresno, CA—Today nursing home workers at Sunnyside Convalescent Hospital announce their plan to strike for one day on September 21st. The workers at this facility organized a strike vote earlier this summer, equipping their Bargaining Team to call a strike if necessary.
Union members are still in active contract negotiations with facility operators, and have been since February. They are anxious to address ongoing unsafe working conditions that affect both residents and staff, including low staffing levels. There’s been a whopping 75% drop in staff in the last year and a half.
While the employer continues to stall at the bargaining table, workers report that more and more of their coworkers are quitting. Leaving the remaining workers to perform duties, some of which they’re not qualified to perform. To complicate matters, employees report their paychecks are bouncing. Some have been forced to pay bounced check fees, as well as late fees incurred when their own bill payments don’t clear.
This strike takes place against the backdrop of a nursing home industry battered by the dual challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and workforce shortages. More than 238,000 nursing home workers have left the industry nationwide since the start of the pandemic. California alone has lost 11% of its nursing home workforce, while the demand only continues to grow. A poll earlier this year by SEIU Local 2015 found that staffing shortages in the healthcare industry were the number one concern of nursing home workers—edging out inflation, COVID-19, affordable healthcare, affordable housing, and the economy, among other issues. 82% said they were extremely concerned, with an additional 8% expressing concern.
“ Recently, I was the only CNA on duty for 32 residents—more than half of them are incontinent. That means people are in soiled bedclothes much, much longer than they should be,” said Nora Garcia, a CNA at the facility. “That’s so upsetting to our residents. The call lights were going crazy. Then I’m in the middle of finally giving someone a shower, and somebody told me that one of the residents had a wife and other family waiting in the lobby to see him. He requires total care and I was right in the middle of this other shower. You can’t rush a shower. That family waited nearly an hour to see their loved one.”
“I’m already earning minimum wage here. I can’t afford the late fees my bank charges me for bounced paychecks,” said Sylvia Gomez, a housekeeper at the facility. “So now, I go straight to the owner’s bank to cash my paycheck there so I can avoid bouncing a check at my bank. Sometimes the owner’s bank tells me there are insufficient funds. We’ve started racing to the bank as soon as we get paid and hope we get there quickly enough. It’s sort of like first come, first served. No one should have to get paid this way. The only reason I stay is because I imagine it’s my parents staying there. I do it for our residents.”
“Nursing homes have been California’s ‘ground zero’ during this pandemic. Workers protected our most vulnerable, all while struggling to survive on low wages, inadequate healthcare benefits, double shifts and low staffing,” said Dereck Smith, Executive Vice President of SEIU Local 2105. “The lack of movement in these contract negotiations is unacceptable, the pay day shenanigans unbelievable, and the staff turnover alarming. With half of all nursing home workers across the state saying they’re likely to leave within a year, we need to address these issues immediately, and this process can only begin once facility operators finally agree to treat their workers with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
In addition to bounced checks, some staff are being paid in gift cards. Employees receiving the gift cards say they’ve been told that all normal payroll deductions have been applied, but they’re not able to verify. The employer is not providing proof. Union leaders have attempted numerous times to seek answers and resolution, including payroll stubs for employees. To make matters worse, the employer is already not honoring existing agreements, including guaranteed wages and seniority.
Workers at the facility will continue to use every tool they have to pressure the employer into doing the right thing for staff, residents and their families.