Local healthcare workers join nation-wide strike for more sick pay, respect

Photos (l) by King Demetrius Pendleton, (r) courtesy of SEIU Healthcare Workers on a one day strike picket Cerenity Humbolt Care Center in St. Paul.

Strike for Black Lives launched nationwide

As part of a national effort to bring attention to the plight of Black workers, unions and activists across the nation on Monday, July 20, organized what they called “a Strike for Black Lives.” Actions took place in several U.S. cities including Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In St. Paul, healthcare workers employed by Cerenity Humboldt Care Center voted to authorize a 24-hour Unfair Labor Practice strike, which they carried out on Monday, after rejecting their employer’s contract proposal. SEIU Healthcare Minnesota represents 85 healthcare workers who work as cooks, housekeepers, janitors, nursing assistants, laundry aides, dietary aides, and restorative aides.

According to SEIU, the two sides are divided on a few issues including: a demand for a 5.25% pay increase (workers currently start under $15 per hour), maintaining current sick pay considering that healthcare workers are on the front line of the COVID pandemic (employer proposes to roll back sick pay), and employer’s proposal to restrict leaves of absences.

“We’ve been bargaining for six months and management just doesn’t seem to want to negotiate,” said Rhonda Little, who has worked at Cerenity for over five years and is a member of the union’s negotiating team. “During this pandemic we’ve kept COVID away from our patients, and it is time our facility steps up to respect our work.

“We only can put up with so much,” said Little. “We have lost so many employees because of turnover, but they don’t want to give us a fair raise and they are talking about taking away paid sick time.”

Patricia Nott, vice president of people development, said the company “can’t give what it doesn’t have.” Cerenity is a nonprofit that, according to Nott, provides care “for those who are underserved.

“They are asking for something we cannot afford,” explained Nott, who said the company has attempted to negotiate with the union without success. Nott said that they have provided the union with its financial statements for the past five years, which she says offer proof that the company has been negotiating in good faith.

“My department lost 17 people in the last year,” said Little, “many because our pay is some of the lowest around for our work. Enough is enough. We want them to realize that we are tired of not being taken seriously.”