NEW YORK, N.Y.—With the contract covering almost 20,000 workers at 121 for-profit nursing homes expired since Sept. 30, 1199SEIU members held informational pickets Oct. 10 to promote their desire for higher wages and better staffing.
The union said it is seeking wage increases and other provisions similar to those won by thousands of nursing-home and health-care workers in its July contract with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes of New York, which represents nonprofit health facilities.
“We are health-care workers and we deserve a fair contract,” says 1199 contract administrator Nadine Wallace, one of about 20 people picketing outside the Upper East Side Rehabilitation and Nursing Center on East 79th Street in Manhattan.
The Greater New York Health Care Facilities Association, the trade group representing for-profit nursing homes, has refused to offer pay increases and wants workers to pay more for their health insurance, Wallace says. The owners have also “said no to proposals that would improve staffing,” 1199 says. “Despite the fact that nursing-home workers successfully lobbied in Albany for state funding for nursing homes, nursing-home owners are holding out on agreeing to fair wages until they know exactly when this money is coming in.”
Over the summer, we lost a couple patients because it was too hot. — April Lewis, CNA
The association did not respond to a message sent by LaborPress asking about the contract talks and staffing issues.
At the Upper East Side Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, where 1199 represents about 250 certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, housekeepers, maintenance workers, dietitians, and receptionists, “they’re understaffed, overworked, and underpaid,” says Wallace. CNAs often work through their lunch breaks because they have “too many patients, too little time.”
The Cassena Care chain, which acquired the bankrupt 499-bed facility in 2015 after it was sold for $105.5 million, “cut the staffing tremendously,” says April Lewis, a CNA who has worked there for more than 17 years. The rehab floor where she works the 3-to-11 swing shift used to have five nurses and four CNAs to take care of 40 patients, including one nurse in charge, two to administer medications, and two to change the dressings on patients’ sores, she says. Now, there’s only one supervisor and one medication nurse.
Things are worse on the lower floors, “total-care units” where patients need to be fed, dressed, and taken to the bathroom by CNAs, she adds. Those, which also have 40 patients, have only three CNAs on the day shift, two on the night shift, and one nurse on the 11-7 overnight shift.
“You want to take your time to feed some of the patients, because they have choking issues,” Lewis says. But management’s attitude, she feels is “you have an hour to feed them.”
The nursing home’s air-conditioning also broke, she adds, speaking over the machine sounds from a mobile air-conditioning truck parked out front. Over the summer, “we lost a couple patients because it was too hot,” she says. “Family members brought their own air-conditioners.”
“We care for these patients because we love them,” Wallace says, as picketers carried “Contract Now” signs past her. “We want to get what we deserve for our labor of love.”