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Schuylkill County nursing home employees go on strike

Republican Herald - 9/5/2022

Sep. 3—Workers at two Schuylkill County nursing homes went on strike Friday after negotiations with their employers failed.

More than a dozen employees of The Gardens at York Terrace in Pottsville and Ridgeview Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in Shenandoah Heights, both represented by SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, took to the streets with supporters outside their respective facilities.

Wearing purple T-shirts, they chanted and carried signs with phrases advocating for better pay, calling for a new contract and saying they love their residents. Some of the chants called out facility executives by name, referring to them as "greedy." Flyers outlining reasons for the strike, including inadequate staffing and the need for better pay, were distributed.

Passing motorists honked in apparent support.

Scott Bloss, 39, who has worked as a licensed practical nurse at York Terrace for a year and is part of the union's negotiating team, said he wants a living wage for all employees, particularly dietary, housekeeping and laundry staff.

"It takes all of us to take care of residents," said Bloss, a Pottsville native who now resides in Kulpmont. "They have been left in the dust."

Bloss said fair wages and better benefits will help attract and retain staff.

Port Carbon resident Kristen Krusnoski, a licensed practical nurse for 29 years, also part of the negotiating team, said striking can lead to a livable wage for workers while giving residents a better quality of life.

Ridgeview certified nursing assistant Cheryl Connolly, 53, who has worked at the facility for seven years and is on its negotiations team, said the facility's owner — Shenandoah Heights Healthcare LLC — hasn't regularly negotiated with them since January.

"They don't negotiate in good faith," she said.

Connolly said they are fighting for the residents by striking.

"We care very much about them," she said.

Fellow certified nursing assistant Donna Pronio, 58, said employees are "worth a full contract." A Lost Creek resident who has worked at Ridgeview for 20 years, Pronio said the health insurance offered by the facility isn't good and conditions at the facility were "terrible" at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Striking workers pointed out that the state budget set aside $600 million for nursing homes, 70% of which goes toward staffing and better job standards.

Strike 'irresponsible'

David Jasinski, an attorney representing the two nursing homes, said it was "unfortunate" the union and employees chose to leave the negotiating table and walk out on their jobs.

He said "significant wage increases" were offered for union employees at both facilities.

Officials at The Gardens at York Terrace also expressed disappointment with the strike in an emailed statement Friday afternoon.

"We want the public to know that we did not want our employees to follow the union and abandon their jobs," they said. "We believe it is irresponsible in these challenging times."

Officials outlined their proposal, which includes wage increases up to $4 an hour; 29% increases for certified nursing assistants based on experience; 17% increases for licensed practical nurses based on experience; 28% increases for cooks based on experience; and an employer health plan with better benefits and reduced monthly premiums.

"We remain committed to our employees and made every attempt to reach a new contract with SEIU and employees. Our goal is to raise wages for our employees to assist them in these challenging times," the statement said. "Instead of embracing wage increases for their members, the union made demands regarding neutrality and other terms which have nothing to do with the employees."

They hope SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and its leadership will work with them and "stop proposing items which have absolutely nothing to do with the employees."

Jasinski said while he didn't have the exact details, there were "substantial increases" offered for Ridgeview employees. He said both facilities are fully staffed and services are being provided.

Workers represented by SEIU are demanding:

—Substantial wage increases for all existing employees.

—Employer-paid health insurance.

—Protection of the existing contract in the event of a sale.

—To be ensured that employers follow new state regulations governing staffing.

—Written commitments not to interfere with the rights of workers who choose to form their union to demand accountability from private equity firms and bad-actor nursing home chains.

The employees' actions Friday are part of a statewide strike called by the union after last-minute negotiations between Priority Healthcare, the parent company of The Gardens at York Terrace, and Shenandoah Heights Healthcare LLC, the owner of Ridgeview and Comprehensive Healthcare, fell through. They began Thursday morning and ended early Friday morning.

Friday's strikes, including those at 12 other nursing homes across the state, involved some 700 workers, The Associated Press reported.

A statement from the union said while no additional bargaining dates have been set, the workers are hopeful to get back to the table "as soon as possible."

Contact the writer:; 570-628-6028; @Cleespot on Twitter


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