New York Nursing Home Members Start TalksOctober 29, 2021
Bargaining begins for Group of 65 and Greater New York nursing home contracts.
Bargaining the contracts that determine the wages and conditions of tens of thousands of 1199 nursing home members in the New York City metropolitan area has begun.
What is different this time around is that these talks are taking place against the backdrop of an ongoing 18-month pandemic, the effects of which are still being felt on a daily basis by both members and the residents in their care. Not only that, but thanks to concerted political action by 1199 nursing home members and our elected representatives in Albany, historic reforms to New York State law governing management’s responsibilities were enacted earlier this year.
Members had been warning for years about how low levels of staffing in many facilities was jeopardizing their ability to provide the quality care that every resident deserves. In many of the for-profit homes, appeals for better staffing levels fell on deaf ears. But then the pandemic shone a spotlight on the nursing home industry, and NYS lawmakers were spurred into action.
New laws passed in April of this year require that owners spend 70 percent of their revenue on direct resident care, including 40 percent on resident-facing staff. The inclusion of nursing home reform in the 2021 NY State Budget came as a direct result of worker activism through 1199’s “Invest in Quality Care” campaign.
Still, the negotiators for the Greater New York nursing homes and the “Group of 65” did not commit to wage increases and made proposals which, members pointed out, would leave workers poorer, less secure and less able to provide care to the residents than when they walked into the bargaining sessions.
1199SEIU members know what is needed to take care of others at the same time they provide for their own loved ones.
Julia Stock, an 1199 Cook at North Westchester Restorative Therapy and Nursing Center in the Hudson Valley, says: “Everything has been rough since COVID: No one knows what’s really going to happen or what we’re up against. They call us heroes and say they care. If they really care, why are they fighting us for a raise?
“We haven’t seen many of [the owners] all year. They didn’t show up at their own facilities, but we were there and kept the doors open. We kept it running the whole time. We were in places with little ventilation. We were being exposed to people who we knew were sick, and we still had to treat them. We had to watch people die in front of our eyes. I’m angry that they have to think about giving us a raise."
“We need money to take care of our families now. Giving us a pizza is fine, but I can’t fold a pizza and put it in my pocket; it doesn’t pay the bills. It shouldn’t be that people who care for the elderly get the worst of the deal.”
In the meantime, management is consistently plugging their immediate staffing gaps by hiring non-union agency workers—and now they want to be able to use agency workers more often. 1199 members are rejecting that idea, knowing that it only creates a revolving door of nursing home workers when continuity of care is crucial for the residents.
Paulette Baldwin, an 1199 Recreational Therapist at The Plaza Citadel Care Centers in the Bronx, says: “I work in two units with 84 clients. Management keeps making comments as if this pandemic is over. It is not. We’re not machines—we’re heroes— and we deserve their appreciation, gratitude, and the respect of a new contract. We’re not just employees: We’re an asset to the company. We're their biggest asset.”
“I want to be able to enjoy what my retired brothers and sisters have gotten,” continues Baldwin. “I don’t want retirement benefits to be in arms reach and then get snatched away. We’re in this together, and we need to stand united.”