Ascension Living, Largest Non-Profit Catholic Health System Issues Disciplinary Notices to Lewiston Nursing Home Workers Who Participated in One-Day Strike!March 22, 2022
Lewiston, NY – Late last week, several of Ascension Living’s at Our Lady of Peace probationary workers were greeted with disciplinary notices for participating in a one-day strike earlier this month. More than 150 caregivers at the Lewiston area nursing home are represented by 1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East and have been working without a contract since their 16-month contract expired December 31, 2021. Many of the caregivers are women and people of color earning $1-$5 less an hour than other workers doing the same work at other facilities in Western, New York.
“I was actually offended when management was giving us hard time for participating in the one-day strike,” Nina Calandrelli, Certified Nurse Assistant. “They thought that we wouldn’t participate in the strike, they thought that we wouldn’t stand up for ourselves even though we were new. If you need me so bad, why would you write me up for participating in legal strike and standing up for myself,” says Calandrelli.
Disciplinary notices were given to newly hired workers who were on probation. The union alleges that probationary workers are covered by Federal Law and have the legal right to participate in a strike.
The Catholic Church recognizes the rights of workers to participate in a strike.
Today, 1199SEIU filed an Unfair Labor Practice Charge with The National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the impacted workers, alleging that the disciplinary actions issued by Ascension Living are a violation of worker’s rights under the law.
This isn’t the only charge 1199SEIU levied against Ascension Living, a subsidiary of the largest Catholic Health system in the United States. Days before the one-day strike, Ascension threatened to lock-out workers for a total of 5 days and the union filed charges. Ascension Living quickly rescinded the threat of a lock-out.
Last week, a delegation of workers from Our Lady of Peace participated in a rally and press conference on the steps of Ascension Headquarters in St. Louis Missouri. Workers were joined by Labor Unions, Clergy, and community groups.
Both sides returned to the bargaining table on March 21. Despite significant counter proposals from 1199SEIU, Ascension made no movement on starting rates of pay. Bargaining between 1199SEIU and Ascension Living resumes on March 28.
Caregivers at Our Lady of Peace are Registered Nurses, Nurse Assistant, Certified Nurse Assistant-Rehabilitation, Certified Rehabilitation Aide, Direct Care Nurse (Graduate PN), Environmental Services Operator, Housekeeping Aide, Laundry Aide, Licensed Practical Nurse, Maintenance Technician, Nurse Assistant Student, Nutrition Services Aide, Nutrition Services Cook, Cook's Assistant, Porter/Dishwasher, Recreational Aide, Registered Staff Nurses, Senior Housekeeping Aide, and Unit Attendants.
“We can’t get people to come work for low wages,” says Daniel Martinucci, Maintenance Technician. “Our wages are really low compared to other nursing homes in WNY. If Ascension Living is serious about staffing our local nursing home properly, they need to improve the wage scale,” says Martinucci. Wages offered by St. Louis, Missouri based Ascension Living are not keeping up with nursing home wages offered in Western New York.
“When we don’t have enough staff, residents don’t get that extra attention that they need – they can feel neglected at times,” says Krista Diez, Licensed Practical Nurse. “Our resident’s mental health suffers if they don’t have that extra face to face time with us. They need human interaction, and we can’t provide that if there aren’t enough of us,” says Diez.
1199SEIU asked a federal mediator to join talks in hopes of reaching an agreement with Ascension Living. “We are doing everything we can to avoid a strike,” Bogdanove. “However, we cannot ignore the staffing crisis at Our Lady of Peace, or the fact that Ascension Living has closed down three units. Ascension Living must offer competitive wages that will recruit and retain healthcare workers. This will help to remediate the staffing crisis so that workers can spend more time caring for their residents,” says Bogdanove.
In early March, a mobile billboard featuring caregivers drove throughout the Niagara County area asking residents to sign a petition in support of their fight for a fair contract. Workers also distributed leaflets to Lewiston area businesses advising the community about the impending one-day strike.
This isn’t Ascension Living’s only labor dispute. Wisconsin Federation of Nurses & Health Professionals are also demanding fair wages, COVID pay and better staffing from Ascension Living. In fiscal year 2021, Ascension Living reported a net income of 5.7 billion dollars, while receiving $1.8 billion in federal grants.
Unit closures and pending lay-offs have not alleviated staffing crisis. Closures have lowered the amount of available beds in the area. Ascension Living at Our Lady of Peace started closing units in November 2020. According to US Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the facility is currently 48% occupied, well below the 83% New York State average.