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Commentary: Give nursing home workers a raise
Jul 12, 2024

The phrase “staffing crisis” has been thrown around recently to describe the state of Minnesota’s nursing homes. But sometimes what these discussions lose sight of is where this staffing crisis comes from: low pay, poor benefits and disrespect.

Since COVID-19 began, I’ve watched many of my most dedicated coworkers leave an industry they love for better pay and respect on the job.

I’m faced with the same dilemma. I care deeply for the people I work with, and I don’t want to abandon the residents I’ve known throughout my decade on the job. But the pull of a better-paying job with stable hours is always there.

The numbers don’t lie. With a 41% staffing shortage, Minnesota has the dubious honor of holding the highest long-term care vacancy rate in the country.

More than 1,000 nursing home workers from 12 different nursing homes went on strike in March to fix our broken nursing home system. That’s because even though the state’s been spending hundreds of millions of dollars for long-term care, industry executives have padded their bottom lines instead of raising wages for frontline workers. That’s led to fewer and fewer people pursuing work in nursing homes while our growing senior population needs skilled care.

The workers who went on strike wanted to show the misplaced priorities of the nursing home operators are accelerating rather than fixing the staffing crisis. Low wages and burn out have driven many great care workers to find jobs in better paying industries. Short-staffing has created chaos with our schedules, leaving many of us to fill the gaps through exhausting double shifts and overtime. All of these issues make it increasingly difficult to provide residents with the care they deserve, despite our best efforts.

Minnesota’s newly created — and first in the country — nursing home workforce standards board was tasked with enacting real solutions to the crisis. In their brief time, they’ve done just that. In April, the nursing home workforce standards board voted to raise the minimum wage of nursing home workers to at least $20.50 per hour (much more for many), while guaranteeing overtime pay for 11 state holidays that nursing home workers can’t just take off.

Before these standards can become law, the public can provide input until July 24th. We need your voice.

At my nursing home, we need these standards to create the change we couldn’t create for ourselves. This past year, my coworkers and I tried to form a union to address the issues our industry is facing.

Ironically, another way Minnesota nursing home operators spend money that should go towards resident care is union busting. Despite our employers telling us how important and valued we are as essential workers, when we tried to join together collectively through a union, we were met with weeks of union busting.

We haven’t been successful in forming our union (yet), but thanks to the advocacy of union members across Minnesota, our entire industry will benefit from new standards.

At some point in our lives, we will know someone or need long-term care ourselves.

Serious investment is needed now to ensure every generation has the best care possible.

These new standards are a sign that real change is in our future — and policymakers are taking us seriously.

For me, my coworkers, and the residents we care for, it can’t come soon enough.

— TJ Hart is a food service worker in the Minnesota nursing home system. This column originally appeared at MinnesotaReformer.com.

Labor World Newspaper
2002 London Rd, Ste 110
Duluth, MN 55812

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