Labor leaders said Monday workers at five nursing homes in Rhode Island now plan to strike in August if demands for higher wages and more staff are not addressed. For more than a year, staff, including nurses and CNAs, along with the Service Employees International Union local 1199NE have pushed for new contracts to increase staffing and pay levels. 

“We will, if we do not get justice, be out on the streets,” said Adanjesus Marin lead organizer for the local union chapter. “And I think it should be concerning to everyone who cares about nursing home residents, that caretakers are being forced to take this stand.”

Marin said low staffing levels have been a problem for years, but the COVID pandemic has made the issue worse. Long-term care facilities account for more than 80% of Rhode Island’s COVID-related deaths, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And staff have been exposed to the illness, have gotten sick, and, in at least one case, died as a result of the illness. 

Monday’s announcement expands an originally planned strike from three nursing homes, adding Bannister Center and Charlesgate Nursing Center, both in Providence. The strike date has also been moved from July 29th, to August 5th. 

Labor leaders have also been pushing Rhode Island lawmakers to adopt minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes. Last week the state legislators in the Senate approved a bill to set staffing requirements. A similar bill is under review in the House. House lawmakers have created a commission to study this issue, and report back by April of 2021.

The local SEIU represents more than 800 nursing home workers in Rhode Island. According to Marin, a strike in August would be the first of its kind in about 17 years. 

“You call us heroes,” said Shirley Lomba during a press conference Monday, who has worked as a CNA for 15 years at Bannister Center. “Show the heroes you care.”