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Nursing assistants picket over wages at Centers nursing homes

Post-Star - 11/29/2018

Nov. 29--QUEENSBURY -- Low pay and expensive health insurance is leaving the Centers nursing homes understaffed, workers said as they picketed outside the Glens Falls Center on Wednesday.

At times, only two aides -- rather than four -- are working a daytime shift on a floor, and they can't get to residents when they need to be helped to the bathroom, said certified nursing assistant Angela Benson.

She's seen patients try to get to the bathroom alone while others end up urinating in their beds, if no one quickly responds to the call button.

"It's a fall risk, and it's a dignity issue," she said.

According to Medicare.gov, 4 percent of the patients at Glens Fall Center have fallen and sustained a major injury. The average for nursing home residents in New York state is 2.9 percent, and workers who picketed blamed the high number of falls on poor staffing.

"The problem is turnover. Then we have low staffing," Benson said.

Picket organizer Melissa Tambasco, who does not work at the facility, told the group that the owners of the Centers nursing homes won't agree to increase wages for CNAs. The wage starts at $12.50 an hour.

"We know we can't compete with those wages because people are leaving here to go five minutes down the road," she said.

On that salary, health insurance is also unaffordable, Benson said. A family plan is more than $200 a week, which is $10,400 a year. For full-time workers making $12.50 an hour, the insurance is about half their weekly paycheck. That's before paying for medical care.

"So you have like $100, $200 left to live on," Benson said. "And the plus-one is cheaper, but they want to get rid of that, so we'll only have single or family plans."

Benson has worked at the nursing home for six years, from long before Centers Health Care purchased it in 2017.

"I stay here because I love my residents," she said.

She and the other CNAs and nurses are also a family, she added.

At nearby nursing home Wesley Health Care Center in Saratoga Springs, CNAs said they are being paid more than $14 an hour.

Glens Falls Center officials declined comment on the picket, directing a reporter to contact the corporate office for Centers Health Care.

The corporate office sent out a statement saying that negotiators were working on a new contract with the employees, who are represented by 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. Centers bought five local facilities and is trying to create a contract that covers all five.

"Due to the complexity of negotiating five separate contracts for five different facilities at one bargaining table, the process has taken longer than expected, as issues vary for each facility," said spokesman Jeffrey Jacomowitz in the statement.

"We have made substantial progress and are confident that we should be able to iron out our differences at the bargaining table," he added.

The employees picketed on their own time, after work or on a day off. About nine employees participated, supported by a few other union members from other units.

Jacomowitz emphasized that the employees did not leave their patients to picket.

"We want to assure our residents, families and the public that the residents continue to be cared for by our dedicated and caring staff, and we are confident that, together, we will come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement very soon," he said.

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(c)2018 The Post Star (Glens Falls, N.Y.)

Visit The Post Star (Glens Falls, N.Y.) at www.poststar.com

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