Workers at a Springfield memory care facility who are seeking to unionize announced that they gave a 10-day strike notice after the management refused to recognize their union and request expedited contract negotiations.
The employees at The Rawlin at Riverbend Memory Care first demanded immediate recognition of the union on Monday, Feb. 1, in response to an active COVID-19 outbreak among residents with 47 cases and six deaths. Employees then delivered a petition to the management detailing the danger facing workers and residents from understaffing, insufficient training and a low-wage induced high turnover rate.
According to a press release sent by union SEIU 503 on Feb. 5, The Rawlin management refused to recognize the union and “take steps to protect residents.” Staff at The Rawlin then delivered pledges to go on strike.
The outbreak began at The Rawlin on Dec. 10, according to the Oregon Health Authority. In a press release, The Rawlin said the COVID-19 vaccine became available for residents on Jan. 27.
Public records from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries shows that one employee has filed a complaint against The Rawlin in January, though it does not indicate what the complaint was about. The records say the complaint is closed and a warning letter was sent.
In an email to Eugene Weekly, Onelife owner Zack Falk said that The Rawlin recently learned that the employees are planning a “work stoppage in an attempt to force us to recognize a union.” He added that COVID-19 makes for challenging times and that employees’ hard work and dedication were “nothing short of heroic.”
“And although we certainly hope that these employees ultimately decide not to go on strike, The Rawlin is prepared to continue operations and round-the-clock care for our residents regardless,” Falk said.
In a video statement, The Rawlin workers explained that they intended to form the union and to strike, citing continual unsafe working conditions and lack of change from management. They said 85 percent of staff signed the petition and union cards, which means the employer may choose to recognize the union without holding an election.
“We are done watching our residents suffer and watching each other suffer from the effects of critical understaffing, extreme turnover due to low wages, and traumatizing working conditions at The Rawlin,” Summer Trosko, a Medtech for The Rawlin, said in the video.
In the statement, several workers emphasized their demand for the union to be recognized and asked the community to stand with them in their decision to strike and fight for better working conditions and better care for residents.
“To our residents — We are here for you. Trust us. We will never abandon you,” staff member Hermes Ochoa said.
In a separate video statement, Trosko detailed her reasoning for wanting to unionize. She explained that The Rawlin has lost 21 residents in the last eight weeks, including the six from COVID, because “we’re not able to care for them like they need to be cared for.”
“It’s broken my heart,” Trosko said. “It’s so hard to go to work every day knowing people are dying and there is nothing I can do about it. That’s why we are forming a union, asking for change.”
Oregon Rep. Marty Wilde shared his support for the union in a Tweet. He shared a video of The Rawlin workers giving their statement and said, “I’m proud to support SEIU’s organizing efforts in Springfield. Unions save lives in long term care.”
Onelife, the company that owns The Rawlin, received $260,858 in COVID relief funding, the press release said, but SEIU alleged the money has not been used to create better policies at the care home.
A previous post written on the SEIU 503 website said that workers at The Rawlin make $12.40 an hour — even those who have worked at the facility for more than two years — while owners Zach and Greg Falk “live in luxury.” Greg Falk and his wife bought a $6.5 million dollar Arizona mansion in cash in 2020, according to the post.
This story has been updated.