Screenshot of Rep. Schawkosky at union event
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) was one of several lawmakers to join nursing home union events this week.

Workers at nursing homes in New Jersey joined those in California and in several states in between activities meant to show support this week for a soon-to-be-proposed federal staffing minimum.

The union-backed “week of action,” involving rallies and high-profile events with elected leaders, centered around staffing concerns that are affecting workers and their charges. National Service Employees International Union representatives said “thousands” were expected to participate.

While healthcare union penetration has not increased significantly according to a JAMA study published late last year, organized skilled nursing workers have been increasingly vocal and won concessions from multiple providers over the last year. They’ve also increasingly partnered with elected leaders and sometimes nursing home operators to rally for increased funding that would support wage and benefit improvements,

On Monday, it was the staffing mandate that took center stage when local SEIU members  joined members of Congress for events in both Pennsylvania and Illinois.

In Chicago, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) joined dozens of workers at a rally, where they held signs that read, “Safe staffing saves lives.” Schakowsky was one of 113 representatives who earlier this month sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services encouraging the formal proposal of national staffing standards.

“When you have safe standards, when you have an adequate amount of presence in the nursing home, that is not only good for these overburdened workers, but it saves lives for nursing home residents,” Schakowsky said at Monday’s event, covered widely by Illinois media.

In addition to demanding new federal rules, workers in some states also bemoaned delays or lack of enforcement when it comes to similar state regulations.

In New Jersey, for instance, union members who stopped short of calling themselves picketers posed with placards and raised concerns about what they described as a toothless staff-reporting rule.

While state law requires nursing homes and hospitals to report information on the number of staff involved in direct patient care, SEIU member and Newark certified nursing assistant Cheryl Hunte said the rules haven’t changed staffing levels.

“My colleagues and I are still often working short,” she told  

Rhina Molina, a leader with the 1199SEIU New Jersey region, called for stronger rules to ensure high-quality care and make jobs more attractive.

“We need to combine strong staffing regulations at all levels of government with higher wages for all nursing home workers to make sure that patients can age with dignity and workers are appreciated for the vital work they do,” Molina added.

Among other planned actions this week:

  • Workers In California planned to hold speak outs at 18 nursing homes
  • Florida workers hosted a roundtable with Department of Health and Human Services officials
  • In Ohio, workers held events connected to meetings of the state’s new Quality Care and Accountability Task Force 
  • In Pennsylvania, SEIU members held a virtual event with US Reps Madeleine Dean (D) and Susan Wild (D), both of whom joined Schakowsky in calling on CMS to move forward with a staffing mandate.
  • Washington workers planned to call their state legislators from their break rooms to demand better staffing requirements

In addition to calling for national staffing standards, union members in some states were also expected to escalate their demands for living wages of up to $25 an hour and ask for more safe staffing guarantees, the SEIU said.