Capital Region Caregivers Fend Off Attack on Their Contract

February 27, 2020

With a new owner ready to gut their contract, unified workers took a leap of faith and pushed management back to the bargaining table.

FendOffContract_fa.jpgIn dire straits due to their financial mismanagement, for years The Lutheran Care Network (TLCN) operated their Delmar, NY facilities, Good Samaritan Nursing Home, and an assisted living facility, Kenwood Manor, on a shoestring budget. As the buildings deteriorated, the workers were continually challenged by short-staffing and diminished supplies. Making things worse, the employer paid the workers’ Health Benefit Fund only sporadically, creating uncertainty for the caregivers whose benefits could end at any time.

No one was surprised in December when TLCN filed for bankruptcy. But, with the facilities in shambles, only one for-profit corporation, Centers Heath Care, stepped up as buyers.

Concerned that the potential new owner would not recognize their union contract Good Sam and Kenwood members held meetings, rallies, press conferences, and an informational picket to let Centers know that their 1199SEIU collective bargaining agreement would not be undermined. Workers were clear that they would not put patient care at risk by aggravating short staffing and losing experienced caregivers.

Teneisha Addison, a CNA at Good Sam for the last six years, was emotional during a January press conference held by Good Sam and Kenwood workers.

“We care about our residents; we care about our jobs. It’s really sad,” Addison tearfully explained. “It’s the residents that I’m really concerned about; they paid their money to be here and they can’t even get what they need.”

“And, we have families,” she added. “I have a husband who’s sick and needs medical attention, and we can’t afford to pay medical bills if we don’t have insurance. I have no choice other than looking for another job now.”

The message fell on deaf ears. In a bankruptcy court motion, both Centers and TLCN requested that the workers’ contract be gutted ahead of any purchase. With the bankruptcy judge about to decide the future of the facilities and their jobs, TLCN workers realized they needed to speak louder and took a leap of faith. Somewhat reluctantly, they voted in January to send a 10-day strike notice. Pushing the envelope worked and within a few days, Centers Health Care came back to the bargaining table. At press time, negotiations were under way, with workers prepared for tough, critical bargaining ahead of them.

Rita Hyman, a CNA at Kenwood Manor, remains cautiously hopeful in the stressful situation.

“It’s a headache every day, when you look at the residents’ faces and think of your family,” she said. “Some days you feel caught between a rock and a hard place.”

Good Samaritan and Kenwood Manor workers are not alone in their fight.

“That’s a great thing about being in a union. Our story is here in the Albany area, but there are 1199 caregivers who work at Centers facilities throughout the state and we have a lot in common. We all count on the wages and benefits negotiated in our contracts, because we need to take care of our families at the same time we care for our residents,” said Hyman.

John Makoyi, a licensed practical nurse at Good Sam, has been an outspoken leader about the impact of TLCN’s bankruptcy.

“Our fight is for all of us—for every caregiver, every resident, and every family who could be jeopardized by employers like The Lutheran Care Network or the Centers, who see profit and the bottom line before they see the human faces of long-term care,” affirmed Makovi. “Whether we are in New York City, Albany, the Hudson Valley or Buffalo, we can’t allow Centers, or any other employer to lower the standards we have fought so hard for and won and to put greed before quality care.”

- 1199 Magazine: January / February 2020