Nursing Home Workers Seek Compensation Hike
Horns blared as cars drove past a group of nursing home workers outside the Dunkirk Rehabilitation and Nursing Center on Wednesday afternoon on Lake Shore Drive, as workers and union representatives picketed for better working conditions and increased compensation. A small group of workers and union representatives peacefully demonstrating in front of the Dunkirk facility grew in numbers once more workers finished their shifts later that afternoon.
More than 200 nursing home workers at four facilities across Western New York are fighting for better compensation in their next contract, after their most recent three-year contract expired on Dec. 31. Caregivers at the Rehabilitation and Nursing Center locations in Dunkirk, Eden, Houghton, and Salamanca have been bargaining for a new contract for several months without much progress on their demands. Union nursing home workers are represented by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.
“We’re looking to get fair and competitive wages. We’re looking for better health care and a good pension, so that when we retire, we’re able to provide for our families and take care of ourselves,” said Heather Barone, a Certified Nurse Assistant. “We want to be able to take care of our residents better. We need more staffing, we need people who are willing to stay and work.”
Barone has been working at the Dunkirk Rehabilitation and Nursing Center for six months. She came to the center after working factory jobs in the past, and shortly after working at the facility, Barone became a CNA. She has held that title for four months.
Chants that included, “When they say cutback, we say fight back,” were led by Emmanuel White, 1199SEIU Administrative Organizer, and Grace Bogdanove, 1199SEIU Western New York Nursing Home Division Vice President. Each carried a megaphone as workers marched along the sidewalk behind them, with signs in hand. Among the messages on the signs included, “Respect us. Protect us. Pay us. Staff us.”
Workers are seeking competitive wages to recruit and retain staff to provide care for their residents. Many service workers at the four facilities are earning the minimum wage of $14.20 per hour. On top of the low compensation, workers say lack of staff members and supplies are making the jobs more difficult for those who remain at the for-profit facilities.
“Factory workers nowadays get paid more than we do, and we have to go through training,” said Barone. “It’s disheartening to see, ‘I can work at the ice cream factory and make a buck and a half more. I can work and make dog food and make two bucks more.’ … You care about these people when you get here.”
Nursing home workers at the four facilities work as Licensed Practical Nurses, Certified Nurse Assistants, Rehab Aides, Unit helpers, Housekeeping Aides, Laundry Aides, Dietary Cooks, Dietary Aides, Dietary Assistants and Certified Nurse Assistants in Training.
The four nursing homes located in Dunkirk, Eden, Houghton, and Salamanca have been managed by Personal Healthcare Management, LLC since 2018.
“We need the owner to care about the people that are here as much as we do,” Barone said. “A lot of times, there’s only two of us in the evenings. When we’ve got a full house of 40 residents, we are just going nonstop from the time we hit the floor until the time we clock out at night. The residents are great, they kind of understand and a lot of them are aware of what is going on. They are empathetic towards us, they get it too.”
Negotiations between 1199SEIU and Personal Healthcare Management are scheduled to resume Tuesday.