Healthcare workers in Streator strike for higher wages, better working conditions

33 employees walked off the job Nov. 23

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Thirty-three nursing home workers at Parker Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Streator walked off the job Nov. 23, saying they wouldn’t return until Infinity Healthcare Management facilities offers them higher wages and safer working conditions.

The strike entered its ninth day on Tuesday.

The nursing home is one of 11 mostly Chicago-area facilities operated by Infinity that are on strike.

More than a dozen workers dressed for the winter weather picketed in front of the nursing home Tuesday afternoon on Frech Street, after the morning shift spent time on the corner of Frech Street and Route 23 to draw more attention.

“We want a livable wage,” said union steward Becky Steele, who is represented by SEIU Healthcare Illinois.

Messages emailed to the company seeking comment and telephone calls to the company’s offices in Hillside were not returned Tuesday afternoon.

Workers outside of the nursing home said contractors have been brought in by their employer to run the facility.

Steele, who is a certified nursing assistant with 15 years of experience, said workers are asking for at least $15 per hour. She said she makes $12.20 per hour, and a housekeeper standing beside her on the picket line said they make $11.32 per hour.

“Our demands are for proper protective equipment, hazard pay while working in COVID-19 conditions and a base living wage,” Steele said.

Other workers voiced concerns about inadequate staffing at the nursing home.

According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, Parker Nursing Home has had 32 reported cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic and one death. That outbreak is considered a closed case.

The Associated Press reported that Infinity discontinued pandemic pay for employees at the end of July and pays workers base wages well below those of other nursing homes in the Chicago area, despite receiving $12.7 million in COVID-19 funding through the federal coronavirus relief package.

Shaba Andrich with SEIU Healthcare Illinois told the Associated Press the striking workers want hazard “not just for a few people but for everyone.”

“We’ve had members die who are housekeeping laundry workers, dietary workers; members are dying. I’m not talking about just CNAs, not just people who are dealing directly with COVID patients,” Andrich said.

Workers have been without a contract since June.

“The union was supposed to have a meeting with management, and that got canceled, so now there’s another negotiation [Tuesday],” Steele said.

Steele said workers want the issue to be resolved so they can return to caring for residents.

“We miss them,” she said. “They’re like our second family.”

Derek Barichello

Derek is a Streator High and University of Illinois graduate. He worked at the Albany-Herald in Albany, Ga., and for Sauk Valley Media in Sterling, before returning to his hometown paper. He's now news editor for both the NewsTribune and The Times.