St. Louis nursing dwelling employees strike over claims of low pay, mattress bug infestation

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St. Louis nursing home workers strike over claims of low pay, bed bug infestation

Kelsey Landis,

Annika Merrilees

ST. LOUIS — For almost 43 years, Francine Turner-Minor has been distributing medication to patients in a nursing home in Baden.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Turner-Minor went on strike at the Hillside Manor Healthcare and Rehab Center, where about 130 elderly residents live, according to the latest federal data. Workers here say the facility is infested with bed bugs, mice and roaches, and they say they have faced anti-union tactics and unequal pay from the facility’s owners, Luxor Healthcare of New Jersey. Concern has grown so high that city officials are planning to investigate.

“We need the company to feel our pain and our pain, to recognize our strength,” said Turner-Minor, 63, of St. Louis. “This is the home of these residents. We are their family and our work speaks for itself.”

Luxor Healthcare, which owns healthcare facilities nationwide, denied the union’s allegations, saying in a statement workers had decided “to abandon the residents we serve by initiating a strike at the facility.” The nursing home remained fully staffed during the strike, which began Monday morning and is expected to last through Tuesday morning.

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The strike comes amid ongoing labor shortages in long-term care, a long-standing problem that is being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Jobs in this field, like certified nursing assistants and registered nurses, often come with a low salary, equivalent to the hourly rate at fast-food restaurants or gas stations — the average nursing assistant in the US is paid $15 an hour, according to federal data. The jobs are also physically and emotionally demanding.

But when registered nursing assistant Gabriela Love comes to work at Hillside Manor, she tucks her coat in a pocket to prevent bed bugs from infesting it and changes clothes before going home.

“There is nothing dignified about the conditions in which we work or in which our residents live,” Love said at a press conference organized by the Service Employees International Union, which represents the workers. “We stand here today united with one voice to demand the respect, protection and pay we deserve.”

Luxor Healthcare purchased Hillside Manor in the fall of 2021, according to federal documents. Complaints from workers followed shortly after the firing of four union leaders and longtime employees, said Lenny Jones, state director for the union in Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kansas.

According to a complaint pending with the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that enforces labor law, the company fired workers’ leaders and other union members to stifle their organizing activities. The complaint also alleges that the company unlawfully changed employees’ pay and work arrangements. This case also includes complaints about conditions at two other St. Louis facilities owned by Luxor: Beauvais Rehab and Healthcare Center in south St. Louis and Rancho Rehab and Healthcare Center in Florissant. The case is scheduled to go to court later this month, Jones said.

The union, which represents around 100 workers, has been negotiating with Luxor Healthcare since March but has not yet reached an agreement. They are seeking union recognition from Luxor Healthcare, raises, pest control and basic upkeep of the facility, said union officer Danielle Jackson, who has worked as a certified nursing assistant at Hillside Manor for about a year.

Luxor Healthcare said it supports union members’ right to organize but has dismissed “weird allegations” about conditions at the care home. Luxor Healthcare management was “disappointed” that the union had decided “to go on strike in the middle of negotiations while the parties are still actively negotiating with each other,” according to the Luxor management statement.

“The Facility remains committed to good faith negotiations,” the statement said.

St. Louis Aldermanic President Megan Green said a special committee of aldermen will examine the three facilities in the coming months. The committee will meet weekly through mid-April to hear from workers, residents’ families and Luxor Healthcare officials, Green said. Depending on the findings, the city may take regulatory action, Green said.

“The most neglected people in our society are our children and our elderly who can’t take care of themselves,” Green said. “And that’s why we need to be here, doing this work for them.”

Alderwoman Lisa Middlebrook represents Ward 2 where Hillside Manor is located. She said she plans to do everything in her power “to fix this issue.”

“We stand by you,” Middlebrook said.

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