OSWEGO, NY – Union employees of St. Luke Health Services in Oswego and Michaud Nursing Home in Fulton staged an informational picket in front of St. Luke this afternoon (August 1) to protest the lack of a new labor contract.
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East represents around 150 of the approximately 250 workers. 1199 represents service employees only at the healthcare facility.
St. Luke Health Services is the largest not-for-profit, community-based provider of residential skilled nursing and sub-acute rehabilitation services in Oswego County.
Contract talks began in April and the collective bargaining agreement was extended for one month in June.
The contract extension expired July 31.
Around three dozen employees from housekeeping, CNAs, maintenance, dietary and others marched back and forth along the sidewalk holding signs and chanting.
Workers said they hope the informational picket will inform the community of the struggles the union is facing at the bargaining table and the lack of respect they are receiving from management.
“St. Luke has been involved in on-going negotiations with the union in an effort to finalize a contract for employees in the collective bargaining unit since April. To date, negotiators have met 14 times. The most recent contract expired yesterday (July 31),” Greg Osetek, director of community relations at St. Luke Health Services, told Oswego County Today.
Christine Seymour, a CNA at Michaud, said she feels undervalued by the St. Luke management.
“As caregivers we work hard every day to provide the best quality care to our residents. We don’t feel that management realizes or respects the contribution that we make to this nursing home,” she said.
Although St. Luke management claims no financial hardship, they have proposed a one-percent pay increase for their employees, have refused to update contract language to comply with the Affordable Care Act, and are seeking to eliminate the 15-minute shift overlap employees use to relay important resident information, according to Terry Woodward, an 18-year employee of St. Luke.
“St. Luke has negotiated in good faith since beginning the negotiation process,” Osetek said. “We currently have an offer before the 1199 union negotiator that addresses both economic and non-economic issues that we feel would allow us to achieve an equitable and fair contract for all involved, while making sure that resident care is not effected.”
The workers argue that they must maintain quality standards in order to attract and maintain good employees that provide the highest quality of care that the residents deserve.
Treating employees poorly and eliminating vital communication time between staff members could have a negative impact on resident care, Woodward said.
“We can’t afford to work for the raise they want to give us,” she added. “We’re concerned mainly about health care. You can’t do your job in the hours that they give you, let alone lose 15 minutes of valuable communication time. You know how hard it is for one person to take care of 20 people? A lot of the residents told me they’d love to be out here with us, I kid you not. They understand how difficult our jobs are.”
“We are proud of the work all of our employees do every day,” Osetek said. “We are very disappointed that the union decided to subject our residents to a demonstration in front of their own home.”
“Inequality is out of control in our country, especially in Central New York. It is becoming harder and harder for working people to stay here and thrive. Healthcare jobs are the jobs of the future, and we need them to be good middle-class jobs so caregivers can provide quality care to our patients and decent lives for our families. We will do whatever it takes to ensure quality healthcare, economic security, and opportunity for caregivers and our communities,” the union said in a release to the media.
“Healthcare is a difficult field to work in both physically and emotionally,” said Missy Johnson, a CNA at St. Luke. “We deserve a fair wage increase so that when we get home at night we can rest knowing that we will be able to afford basic things like health insurance and food for our families.”
Osetek noted, “Our service employees have been represented by unions at St. Luke for 36 years and we have negotiated numerous contracts in the past. With regards to these negotiation sessions, St. Luke will continue to move forward in good faith and remain focused on achieving a contract in a manner that is best for all those we serve in our community.”
Friday’s picket was for informational purposes only. Nurses participated on off duty time. There wasn’t a strike nor stoppage of any kind.