With Love From Nursing Home Workers To Wilton Simpson On Labor Day 2022: A Lesson In Hope, Cooperation For A Stronger FloridaSeptember 2, 2022
Ed Gilhuly, LEFT Communication
By Roxey Nelson
This is a Labor Day story of hope.
At a time when our Florida politics are so often polarized, paralyzed along party lines, today we can celebrate an act of collaboration and understanding that will greatly benefit some of our state’s most deserving workers.
Due largely to the leadership of Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson, the state legislature passed a budget including funds to pay nursing home workers a minimum wage of $15 per hour, effective this October 1.
Simpson, a member of a GOP party that otherwise has been far less than friendly to working Floridians, especially organized union workers, took bold action to stand with caregivers and staff who play such an important societal role caring for our elderly loved ones. Sadly, so many of these dedicated workers have previously toiled for poverty-level wages, taking extra shifts, second jobs and more just to scrape by.
But thanks to Simpson, and of course our steady Democrat and progressive champions in the legislature and across our communities, these essential workers see a pathway out of poverty and won’t have to worry so desperately each week about paying their bills.
Jennifer Tribert, for example, has worked in the housekeeping/laundry department of a Hernando County nursing home for six years. She and her co-workers served in the facility on the front lines of the COVID-19 alongside nursing staff for the past three years. And yet, she still does not make $15 per hour, nor does she receive medical insurance through her job. The mother of three says a raise will make a real difference in her family’s finances and ease the constant juggling of late bills. Jennifer is one of 25,000 caregivers represented by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East in Florida who are hopeful that more elected officials will continue to work across party lines to support the needs of workers over unfettered profits of their employers.
Not every owner, but the nursing home industry in general has long followed a flawed business model of maximizing profit first, instead of prioritizing care and safety for its elderly, vulnerable patients and those who care for them. Nursing homes take billions in public dollars, want zero accountability, and at the same time take aggressive action to limit nursing home exposure to liability while paying poverty wages.
Even now, many of these employers in Florida are trying to circumvent the new legislation by claiming subcontracted dietary and environmental staff should not qualify for the $15 per hour minimum wage.
We’re confident Senator Simpson and the legislature will affirm that all of these workers are covered by the new law, as they are part of the essential care team for our parents, grandparents and elderly loved ones.
Not only will this reward workers who play such a critical role in nursing homes, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will help ease the acute staffing and retention crisis in our overall long-term care and healthcare systems.
Workers in healthcare, and in all sectors, must be protected and paid fairly if we expect to recruit and retain them. If we can’t, our systems and services might spiral from crisis to collapse.
The right of workers to organize and bargain collectively is a crucial factor in ensuring a safe, stable workforce. Countless studies have shown that all employees (union members or not), their families and communities clearly benefit when laws are friendly to workers and their ability to join as a union.
We’re not there yet in Florida, but on this Labor Day 2022, we are thankful and optimistic. As the legislation for increased pay to nursing home healthcare heroes is about to take effect, it gives us hope that we will find more leaders who rise above ideological differences, compromise and collaborate, invest in Florida workers and make our state a better home for all.
Roxey Nelson is Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the largest union of nursing home and hospital workers in Florida.