Matt Yarnell

The countdown is on in Pennsylvania, where more than 1,500 nursing home employees at 21 facilities statewide have pledged to walk off the job on July 27 to protest staffing levels, wages and stalled contract talks.

All of the affected nursing homes have labor agreements that expired June 30, except one in Philadelphia, said Karen Applegate Gownley, spokeswoman for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania.

The single-day job action would include about 300 workers in Western Pennsylvania, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Among the targeted facilities are Beaver Elder Care & Rehabilitation Center in Aliquippa, Uniontown Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center and Oil City Healthcare & Rehabilitation, operated by Guardian Healthcare. The company said it had developed a contingency plan to cover its facilities in case of the work stoppage.

“We are troubled that the SEIU is using our invaluable team of caregivers in an attempt to manipulate the negotiation process,” said a statement supplied to the newspaper. “We have offered to negotiate with the SEIU around the clock to avoid any interruption of the provision of quality care at our sites, but the SEIU has refused all such offers at this time.”

SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania President Matthew Yarnell said the walkout was a result of challenging working conditions in long-term care.

“When workers decide to go on strike, that’s a very clear indication of just how bad things are,” he said. “They have been demanding change for decades and then watched as their residents, coworkers and own families died of COVID-19.”

The strike threat comes despite a new state budget that contains more than $250 million in additional nursing home funding. Medicaid funding had been largely flat for about 15 years in the state, which one analysis found led to a $632-million loss that challenged nursing homes’ ability to provide high-quality care and recruit and retain staff.