As Workers Protested for $15-an-Hour Wages, Nursing Home Tried to Hire Scabs at $18

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On Thursday, New Times spoke to Pansy Clayton, a nursing assistant who works at the Hillcrest Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home in Hollywood owned by Consulate Health Care, a national nursing-home chain. That day, Clayton was one of hundreds of protesters demonstrating outside Consulate's properties, claiming that the $11-an-hour wage she lives on is barely enough to pay her bills. 

"Taking care of patients is a passion, and I love my patients," she says. "So I'm sorry that have to do what I have to do to carry on living. But when I stop work at age 65, I won't have any savings."

But when the protesters arrived, union representatives say they were stunned to see red banners flying outside some of Consulate's homes, advertising "seasonal workers" for $18 an hour. The "seasonal workers," New Times has confirmed, were simply strikebreakers, known derogatorily as "scabs," meant to come in and replace the workers until the strike ends.

Service Employees International representative Natalia Jaramillo says some union members felt the signs were "ironic and insulting."

Though more workers complained about the signs in the Orlando area — Jaramillo also provided photos from a Consulate property in Kissimmee — "once you asked them, the workers at Hillcrest said it was one more action that the management is taking to intimidate them and disrespect them. They all knew about the signs."

SEIU workers in more than 300 cities marched last Friday, demanding their employees up their salaries to a $15-an-hour "living wage." The nationwide day of protests — which the union dubbed the "National Day of Action" — was the latest in the union's "Fight for $15" movement, which represents nearly 2 million hourly workers, including health-care workers, janitors, and fast-food employees across the country.

Union members in South Florida were heavily involved in the protests — nursing-home workers in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties protested for 24 hours last Thursday and Friday. Consulate, the union says, pays many of its nursing assistants anywhere from $11 per hour to $13 an hour, amounts some nurses say they can't survive on. According to SEIU, 130 of the 170 workers the union represents at Hillcrest went on strike. Roughly 1,000 workers went on strike statewide.

According to MIT's "Living Wage Calculator," the minimum amount a single, childless adult needs to survive in Broward County is roughly $11 an hour. With one child, however, that number jumps to around $24. (Florida's minimum wage is $8.05 an hour.)

Consulate spokesperson Jennifer Trapp says the banners were flown days after the union announced it would strike.

"We had to backfill," Trapp says. "They didn't leave us a choice."

The workers, she says, were not meant to permanently replace any striking workers, adding that only 11 percent of Consulate's 11,000 employees are union members. She could not confirm how many temporary workers Consulate had hired.

"It's unfortunate all this has even occurred," she says. "In absence of those caregivers, we had to react very quickly. We didn’t have time to open formal job search. We weren’t replacing anyone."

When asked if it was callous to hire strikebreakers at a much higher rate than its regular workers, Trapp says her company was backed into a corner and needed to hire people fast. "The point was to have them on-call, as needed," she explains. "There's a premium associated with that. They aren't full-time staff."

But Jaramillo says the company has used the tactic during strikes in the past. "It's clearly dangerous to workers," she adds. "It's just a way to intimidate them."

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