Staff at dozens of Illinois nursing homes called off a strike set to begin Friday after their union reached a tentative deal with nursing home owners that will increase workers' pay to at least $15 and guarantee additional bonus pay during the coronavirus pandemic.
Certified nursing assistants and food service and housekeeping employees were among those planning to walk out at 44 facilities starting Friday morning, according to officials with the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois Indiana unit.
Staff at 20 more facilities planned to follow on Tuesday. Nearly all of the nursing homes are in Chicago or surrounding suburbs.
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Union and industry officials said the two-year contract announced early Thursday includes $15 minimum hourly pay for 10,000 employees along with $2 per hour bonus pay while Illinois' stay-at-home order is in effect. The bonus pay would be extended at homes with active COVID-19 cases.
The union said the tentative agreement was overwhelmingly supported by members of its bargaining committee, but still must be ratified by the larger group of union members.
The union said the tentative deal also includes additional fully paid sick days for COVID-19-related testing, illness or quarantine for the duration of the health crisis.
“All of the major contract gains will help safeguard the health and safety of workers and the residents for which they care — at a time when both are vulnerable to the risks associated with COVID-19,” the union said in its statement.
The union’s contract with the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities expired at the end of April. Ahead of the deal, nursing home owners were making plans to bring in administrators and non-union staff from other facilities to assist residents and patients.
“While negotiations have ended, this insidious virus has not,” said Bob Molitor, a board member of the Illinois Association of Health Care Facilities and CEO of Alden Network. "We are grateful a walkout was avoided, and that our heroic staff members will continue caring for our vulnerable seniors as we fight this battle together.”
Nursing homes have been among the hardest-hit places during the pandemic because they are filled with people most at risk for severe illness and death caused by COVID-19 — the elderly and people with existing health problems. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three week.
More than 20,000 deaths have been reported in nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the U.S. according to a tally based on state health departments and media reports kept by The Associated Press.
Illinois in April began releasing state data on nursing home cases and deaths linked to the virus. According to the latest totals, more than 1,000 deaths have been linked to long-term care facilities in the state.