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More than ever, nursing home workers are looking for the peace of mind that comes with a collective bargaining agreement

Caregivers at Utica Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, who voted to join 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East last year, have ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with management. The vote, on August 25, was overwhelming in favor of the settlement. The 4-year contract raises standards for workers by guaranteeing annual wage increases with a compounding minimum raise of 9.8%, larger shift differentials, and improved paid time off benefits.

As the healthcare industry continues to experience a period of rapid change, Upstate New York nursing homes, many of which are being bought and operated by downstate for-profit owners, are struggling with financial issues and declining reimbursements. More than ever, nursing home workers are looking for the peace of mind that comes with a collective bargaining agreement. The protections established in Utica Rehab’s contract include job security, seniority rights, a grievance and an arbitration process. The contract is a legally binding agreement that cannot be changed unless union members vote to change it.

During negotiations, the nursing home workers were also concerned with issues of quality and continuity of care for residents, especially when the industry is in flux. “We wanted to make sure that our residents are able to get the kind of care they deserve,” said Stephanie Deuss, a member of the union bargaining committee. “A fair wage and benefit package will attract good workers to our team. That’s important to us and our residents,” she said.

Staci Bowman, a Certified Nurse Assistant (C.N.A.) at Utica Rehab, is proud of the unity that was shown by her co-workers throughout the long negotiation process. “We stood together as a team and we won an important contract!” she said.

At this time, hundreds of 1199SEIU healthcare workers in nursing home facilities across Upstate New York, including both Colonial Park and The Grand nursing homes in Rome, NY, continue to fight for fair contracts that respect the hard work they do and protect the residents they love. “When profit instead of quality healthcare is the mission, we all—residents, their families and their caregivers—have a problem,” said Ruth Heller, Vice President for 1199SEIU, “The link between workers being adequately valued by the ownership, as shown by a contract that improves pay and benefits, and the quality of care that more the residents receive is clear. By offering better pay and benefits the nursing home will be able to hire and maintain more experienced caregivers, improving both the consistency and quality of care to the level that residents deserve.”

The union has introduced a campaign website, WorkersForQualityCare.com, that tells worker stories about their lives at work and at home--and how that affects quality resident care. The stories are meant to inform the public of the undeniable link between quality standards for workers and quality care for nursing home residents.

1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest and fastest-growing healthcare union in America. We represent over 400,000 nurses and caregivers throughout Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Florida. Our mission is to achieve quality care and good jobs for all.

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