John O’Connor

Mark Parkinson recently made an interesting observation about what might be called the current plight of many frontline workers in long-term care.

It happened while the boss at AHCA / NCAL  graciously accepted the Career Achievement Award in Chicago, as part of the 2024 McKnight’s Pinnacle Awards.

Parkinson noted that “ there are thousands of undocumented workers in our buildings who actually have to work under artificial names.” The reason for this practice can be linked to several factors. They include bizarre immigration rules, massive labor challenges in the industry — and for those who literally do the heavy lifting, harsh economic necessity.

Not that any of this will be much of a surprise to anyone who has been paying even casual attention.

Nor is the phenomenon limited to this sector alone. Undocumented workers can be found in virtually every field, especially those where the stamina to continuously perform grueling physical tasks is, well, part of the job. In an odd sort of way, you could say it’s the free-market system  at work.

After all, employers at skilled care settings, restaurants and elsewhere get reliable, non-complaining workers to work longer hours for less pay than would otherwise be possible. And as for those doing the labor, the relatively meager wages are typically far more than they might be able to earn in their native countries. So, I guess it’s a win-win of sorts.

But by any reasonable measure, it’s usually a pretty raw deal for the undocumented workers. If they are treated harshly, threatened, abused, shortchanged or worse, it’s not like they can go to HR and file a complaint. Or call their congressman and demand a fix.

After all, they are in the country illegally. That means they have zero leverage. None. As a result, they are often treated accordingly. That is a reality that many thousands and perhaps millions of undocumented workers must deal with.

But based on what’s being spewed on many so-called news outlets and by their talking heads, you’d think these people are, as one presidential candidate recently described them, vermin.

Look, our immigration laws are deeply flawed. They need to be fixed.

But to blame people doing work that most Americans refuse to do for less money as the real problem? That is simply inaccurate. Vermin? In all too many cases, more like victims.

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.