By any reasonable standard, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has been a nightmare for most operators in this field. Occupancy is down, revenue is declining, and it’s anyone’s guess if or when a vaccine might be available.
As if that’s not bad enough, many operators soon might find themselves dealing with an assortment of new labor-related headaches — ranging from new rules to revitalized organization efforts.
It’s not terribly difficult to see why. Employees are among the thousands of people in seniors housing and care zapped by the coronavirus. To be sure, skilled care settings almost certainly will be forced to abide by enhanced infection control, social distancing and equipment standards for workers in the near future. To the extent that these rules also will be passed along to assisted living likely will vary by state. But the safe bet is that the worker safety rules of tomorrow generally will be more onerous.
The crisis also is empowering many workers and worker advocates to push for new rules affecting pay and benefits. These all are zero-sum issues. So as workers get more, employers will, well, you get the idea.
Opinions vary on whether the new muscle-flexing will fuel a new era of collective bargaining. To be sure, established unions such as the Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union and the Professional Employees International Union are hearing from more callers asking how best to organize. There’s nothing these groups would like to see more than a membership renaissance.In 2019, the union membership rate was 10.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s quite a drop from the 35% high water mark seen in 1954. The sentiment among many union advocates is that a rebound is long overdue. I guess we’ll see how serious this movement is soon enough. As those who have lived through earthquakes will tell you, the aftershocks can cause even more damage. Let’s hope that scenario doesn’t also play out for COVID-19 and labor relations.