John O’Connor

A major union made its long-term care strategy pretty clear in a recent blog. It wants more women to sign up. But one of the piece’s assertions is unlikely to help much.

What’s odd here is that it’s often nursing homes that are portrayed as the bad actors when organizing elections come around.  And in many cases, the criticism is earned. More than a few operators have been guilty of intimidation tactics, rule bending and blatant law breaking over the years. In fact, we’ve reported on far too many.

But last week’s AFL-CIO blog shows that both sides can hit below the belt.

The piece starts out well enough. It notes that women workers are generally paid less than their male counterparts. Moreover, relatively low wages are the norm in long-term care.

“As a result, 44% of this workforce live at or near poverty and 45% rely on some kind of public assistance. No worker should have to live under such miserable economic conditions; it’s especially egregious because caretaking is so grueling. We should be rewarding those whose work is caring for the most vulnerable among us,” the blog notes.

Fair enough. But then the argument goes off the rails. How? By suggesting black women working in this field are treated as poorly as their enslaved ancestors. Wow.

Look, there’s no denying that nursing home employment can be a hard-work, low-pay option. But last time I checked, nobody was forced to do it or face a master’s leash.

I’m fairly certain that black women (and all workers for that matter) have the right to work at any facility where they can land a job — or to work outside this field if they find a better opportunity elsewhere.

And if a worker’s abilities are not commanding as much pay as he or she would like, there is another option: Obtain new skills that lead to higher paychecks. As a general rule, those who can offer more get paid better. That’s kinda how the free market works.

Unions would do well to help their unskilled and semi-skilled members move up. Such a focus might even help reverse a decades-long decline in membership. 

But to instead shame nursing homes by comparing operators to slave owners? That approach is not going to do a single good thing for workers. Or for that matter, the reputation of unions.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.