Roughly 600 workers at seven Twin Cities nursing homes will stage a one-day strike March 5, hoping to pressure employers to boost pay and stop the exodus of nurses and caregivers from elder-care facilities.

Vote results announced Tuesday in favor of the strikes reflect desperation among workers, who are burning out from extra shifts to care for elderly and frail residents, said Jamie Gulley, president of SEIU Healthcare Minnesota and Iowa, the St. Paul-based union that represents the workers.

"There's not enough help," he said. "It just really plays havoc on people's family lives. It causes an extreme amount of burnout when you are forced to work doubles routinely. Folks have frankly had enough."

Seven strikes at once appears to be the largest simultaneous job action against nursing homes in Minnesota's history, he said. The time-limited strike is an increasingly common negotiating tool in healthcare, because workers can put pressure on employers while minimizing harm to patients or residents.

The walkouts March 5 will involve Saint Therese Senior Living in New Hope, the Estates nursing homes in Excelsior, Fridley and Roseville, the Villas at The Cedars in St. Louis Park, and Cerenity Humboldt in St. Paul. Contract support workers at the Villas in Robbinsdale also will strike, but not the facility's nursing staff.

Leaders of the nursing homes did not reply to requests for comment following the union's announcement outside Saint Therese. Votes are scheduled at other nursing homes which could join the walkout.

Staffing shortages have worsened since the pandemic. Minnesota has lost 26 nursing homes since 2019 and statewide nursing home capacity shrunk by more than 3,000 beds since 2020, according to Care Providers of Minnesota, a trade association for the state's elder-care operators.

Lawmakers stepped in last spring with $300 million in rescue funding to prevent more nursing homes from closing, but some still struggled. The Minnesota Department of Health temporarily took over operation of the Bay View Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Red Wing at the end of 2023 when its owner stopped paying bills and employees.

Survey responses last fall from 1,300 union workers at more than 100 Minnesota nursing homes found that almost half make less than $20 per hour. The union believes a $25 per hour minimum wage for nursing home workers would attract more people and address the care shortage.

Laundry worker Teresa Brees said her Roseville nursing home lost a badly needed coworker who loved her $15-per-hour job but earned much more by switching to a job with the U.S. Post Office.

"How many more great people will we lose?" said Brees, who blamed understaffing for a torn bicep tendon she suffered last year after working 23 straight days.

More than 17% of nursing assistant positions were vacant in mid-2022, according to the most recent Minnesota job vacancy data, though that includes some positions at clinics and hospitals as well as nursing homes. SEIU represents nursing assistants, nurses and workers in food service and housekeeping in 31 nursing homes across Minnesota. Facilities under strike will lose the majority of their nursing home workforce March 5, and could be forced to hire high-cost contract workers for the day.

SEIU is banking on public support similar to what Twin Cities hospital nurses received in 2022 when they engaged in a three-day strike over staffing and benefit levels. Gallup's latest public opinion polling last August showed 67% support nationwide for organized labor, down from 71% in 2022 but still one of the highest approval ratings since the 1960s.

"We believe the residents are supportive of us," Gulley said. "In many circumstances, the residents know our working conditions are their living conditions."