Workers at The Rawlin, a long-term memory care facility in Springfield, officially went on strike Tuesday after several weeks of demanding recognition for their union.
The strike went into effect at 10 a.m., with Rawlin workers and their allies in the local branch of Service Employees International Union forming a picket line outside the facility near RiverBend hospital. They plan on maintaining the picket line from 5 a.m to 6 p.m. every day until their demands are met.
Workers are striking due to considerable staffing and training failures that put both workers and the residents at the care facility at risk. Low wages–one worker self-reported making just $12.40 per hour–and long hours have led to extreme staff turnover at the facility. New hires are then pushed into working with patients with as little as one week of training.
As a result, the conditions for residents at The Rawlin have deteriorated. In the nine weeks prior to the strike, 23 residents have died – six of them due to COVID-19-related causes. And while the pandemic is not the chief cause for deaths at the facility, the strikers pointed out that Onelife Investments, the Rawlin’s parent company, had received over $260,000 in COVID relief loans and payments but failed to increase protective measures at the facility.
Still, workers and activists were quick to note that the problems at the Rawlin are not new.
“People wanna blame COVID, but the fact is that conditions here have been awful for years,” said a picketer named Daniel, who declined to give his last name. “Workers have been getting paid almost nothing for hard, difficult work. They have to care for people who have no idea where they are, or who they are, people who are dying, and they get paid barely over minimum wage.”
When asked how long he thought the strike might go on, Daniel said “I’ll be here until tomorrow afternoon, but the union will be here until we win.”
In the weeks ahead of the strike, workers at the Rawlin reported increased attempts to crack down on labor organizing at the facility. According to the union, management at the Rawlin threatened to fire workers for their organizing efforts and cut the hours of workers supporting the union. They also reported that a “union-buster” was hired to hold anti-union “training” during working hours.
Roughly 85% of the staff at The Rawlin joined the union. Strikers reported that temporary workers–“scabs”–were being hired to staff the facility during the strike.
In addition to The Rawlin, Onelife currently manages at least five senior-living properties around the state.
Later that week, on Wednesday, workers brought on local officials and other luminaries to advocate for the striking workers and their right to unionize.
Outside advocates for the Rawlin included Springfield City Councilor Leonard Stoehr, who joined the picket line on the very first day of the strike, and as well as County Commissioner Laurie Trieger and State Representative Marty Wilde.
There was also plenty of support from people whose family members are housed in the Rawlin. Despite the disruption stemming from the strike, family members tearfully supported the striking workers looking to improve conditions for themselves and the residents at the Rawlin.
There was even a statement from Nancy Gallagher, the rector of St. John the Devine Episcopal Church in Springfield.
These statements were followed by a candlelit vigil for the 29 residents that have died at the Rawlin in recent weeks. James Croxton wrote that story, which can be found here.