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Workers at north St. Louis nursing home go on one-day strike demanding higher wages

Workers at north St. Louis nursing home go on one-day strike demanding higher wages

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ST. LOUIS — Workers at Blue Circle Rehab and Nursing in north St. Louis went on strike for one day Thursday, demanding a $15 minimum wage and affordable health insurance.

Nearly two dozen workers represented by SEIU Healthcare Missouri participated in the strike at the nursing home, located in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood.

The workers are 11 months into negotiations for a new contract and allege the nursing home’s New York-based owner is not bargaining in good faith. Employees also held a protest outside the home in March.

Picketers were joined Thursday by St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones, Ward 5 Alderman James Page, and the Rev. Darryl Gray, a community activist.

The city officials lauded nursing home workers at Blue Circle and across the nation for caring for those most vulnerable to COVID-19 over the past 18 months of the pandemic.

“It’s beyond time that frontline health care workers receive the respect, the protection and the pay that they deserve,” Gray said.

The current hourly rate is $10.30 for dietary and housekeeping workers and $13 to $14.50 an hour for nursing staff depending on years of experience, said union vice president Lenny Jones.

Renee Martin, 46, of St. Louis, said she has worked as a certified nurse assistant since 2004 and makes $13.50 an hour at Blue Circle Rehab. The home is always short-staffed, she said, and many employees have quit because of the low pay.

“I love my residents. I take good care of all my residents. I clean, change, feed. I do everything I’m supposed to do,” she said, “but Blue Circle don’t appreciate nothing that I do. Because if they did, they’d give me what I want.”

Mayer Weiss, with Blue Circle Holding, later told the Post-Dispatch the wages are comparable to those of other area nursing home employees.

Weiss said the home’s residents were being cared for by temporary workers during the strike. He did not say how many residents were in the home, but the union estimated there were around 50.

The company also owns two other area nursing homes, Big Bend Woods Healthcare Center in Valley Park and Chestnut Rehab and Nursing in Sunset Hills. The Chestnut facility is in the middle of bargaining for its first union contract, Lenny Jones said.

Weiss said his company often has to rely on expensive temporary staffing agencies because of the lack of workers, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Many employees, he said, leave for the staffing agencies because they pay more. The result has been a bidding war.

Weiss admits that nursing homes may be able to hire more employees if they raise wages, but then staffing agencies in turn will raise their wages.

“You can’t keep going up and up and up, but that’s how it’s happening, that’s how it’s going in the industry. ... As of now there is no solution,” he said.

The mayor said the strike by nursing home workers was timely as the country heads into the Labor Day weekend, a holiday that pays tribute to contributions of American workers.

“What they are asking for isn’t outrageous, what they are asking for isn’t unattainable; they are asking for a living wage,” she said.

“Our city is stronger when everybody can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads,” the mayor added. “So as we approach Labor Day, we reflect on all of the victories unions have won for us ... but it’s powerful movements and actions like this that remind us how much further was have to go.”

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