When Christina Lockyer-White was a girl, she loved visiting the nursing home where her mom worked. Christina would make the elderly residents laugh—the biggest belly laugh of their day.

Today as a CNA in a nursing home in Bakersfield, that’s still how she wants to spend her days: honoring the residents by listening to their stories and making them laugh. Only now in today’s nursing homes, they’re so understaffed that she rarely has time for that. Like the elderly lady who wanted to tell Christina all about the Christmas Eve visit from her son whom she hadn’t seen in two years because of the pandemic. Christina wanted to listen, wanted to ask questions and let the woman share her excitement…but she knew she couldn’t because they were short staffed and too many other residents were waiting for her. So instead she listened and smiled for a moment and avoided any follow-up questions that might invite a longer conversation.

That’s heartbreaking to Christina. 

She wants things to change in our nursing homes, where, as she says, employees are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated—and that was before the pandemic. Things were so poorly run at her profit-motivated, understaffed, poorly equipped, corner cutting nursing home in Bakersfield that nearly one hundred of Christina’s colleagues fell ill with COVID-19 in 2020 in the first few weeks of the pandemic.

But the employees stood together and demanded better. More recently during a second wave of the virus, Christina and her colleagues often waited outside their workplace until N95 masks were provided. They “marched on the boss” when the employer took away their hazard pay. And they held a candlelight vigil to demand that the employer come to the bargaining table to negotiate a new union contract—and invited TV cameras. The union Bargaining Team got some dates for negotiations almost immediately after that vigil.

Christina worked with union organizers over a decade ago to form the union at her workplace. It took Christina and her co-workers seven years to win their first contract, but it was worth it. They won a wage scale after years of no raises. They won job protections that stopped bullying and favoritism on the job. Their colleagues became stewards to help enforce their union contract. And they recently won raises in their most current contract.

Christina wants nursing home workers up and down the state to know that they also have that kind of power. She remembers how proud many of the older residents were of her and her colleagues when they first formed their union—former teamsters and machine shop stewards who would share stories of their union activism back in the day.

Because they knew that the only way overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated employees can make positive changes for themselves and the elderly residents they care for is to stand together and flex their collective power in a union.