New York, NY – Nursing home workers throughout the state went through hell and back during the pandemic — and now they can’t even get a decent contract.
Covid-19 tore through facilities across the state, subjecting workers to unprecedented fatalities as they grappled with insufficient protections, short staffing, inadequate supplies and more. The state attorney general later determined that the total number of nursing home deaths in New York was being undercounted by as much as 50-percent. The ensuing scandal contributed, at least in part, to former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s eventual downfall.
Clove Lakes Health Care and Rehabilitation Center on Staten Island was one of those hard-hit facilities, suffering 40 or more coronavirus deaths.
“We worked when our bosses never showed up,” Clove Lakes employee Vivian Porter told LaborPress at a massive rally for 1199SEIU nursing home workers at 42nd Street and Broadway Nov. 17. “We were there for the residents. We were the residents’ family, we were their nurses — we were everything for them during the pandemic. For [the bosses] to say that we don’t deserve a contract, we don’t deserve that $3,000 — and most importantly, we don’t deserve our healthcare — that’s some bullshit!”
More than 33,000 nursing home workers at 250 facilities around the state have been fighting since August for a contract reflective of what they rightfully earned throughout the pandemic. They’ve been working with an expired contract since September 30.
“I caught Covid,” Clove Lakes Certified Nursing Assistant Shawn McArthur told LaborPress. “Most of these people here caught Covid. They sacrificed their lives for these [bosses] just to say that we don’t deserve the percentage that we deserve.”
In addition to a modest three-percent raise, nursing home staffers that LaborPress spoke to said they’ve been waiting nearly a year for the retroactive pay that Clove Lakes still owes them.
“We had to wait 10 months for our raise from the last contract,” Clove Lakes LPN Danielle Franks told LaborPress. “We’re still waiting for retroactive money. We still have Covid patients, we still are short-staffed, every day, every shift.”
McArthur said they he was forced to work double shifts routinely throughout the pandemic.
“I had to do doubles. It was always the night before my day off,” he said “But when it came down to the raises, when it came down to the contract, when it came down to the retro [pay] — when it came down to all of that, they didn’t have an answer for us. But we had to come in.”
Nursing home workers at the candlelight march and rally — overwhelmingly women of color — fear that their union healthcare coverage is jeopardy.
“We’re fighting not to give up our medical benefits,” Franks said. “They are overworking us, working us with Covid, working us short, working us without enough materials. We’re suffering mentally because our patients are dying. Our families are dying and they’re telling us you’re not worth the 3-percent you owed us last year.”
At least one Clove Lakes worker who retired after 35 years on the job got a banner and a pizza party. McArthur said that broke his heart.
“Unfortunately, we have to be here and fight for something that we deserve,” he said. “Not just a raise and a contract, but our retro[pay]. They haven’t paid us for the year that they owe us — and all that we have to show for it is their asses for us to kiss.”
After filling Broadway between 41st and 42nd streets, the 1199SEIU nursing home workers marched to the union headquarters 498 Seventh Avenue where Cuomo’s successor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams lent their support and called on Nursing home owners to sign a fair contract.
“This is what I always wanted to do — take care of the elderly,” Franks said. “I treat them better than you do. At Cloves Lake we have taken care of the owner, the owner’s son — we have taken care of administrators’ families. We took very good care of them — but when it’s time to pay us fair — they say, ‘Oh, we’re broke.’”
LaborPress reached out to Clove Lakes for a comment. This story will be updated should they respond.