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Fresno nursing home staff plan to strike, alleging low staffing levels and bounced checks

The Fresno Bee - 9/19/2022

Raymond Rodriguez has worked at Sunnyside Convalescent Hospital, a nursing home in southeast Fresno, as a certified nurse assistant and restorative nurse aide for almost 15 years. Though he said he has been through “hard times” with the nursing home, he has no intention of leaving.

“We’re the backbone of the whole facility,” Rodriguez said.

However, after months of contract negotiations between the hospital operator and the union representing nursing staff, Rodriguez is among an estimated 30 nursing staff members who are expected to go on a one-day strike Wednesday. They’re alleging unsafe working conditions due to low staffing levels, delayed payments and disrespect by administrative staff endured by the facility’s staff and residents.

Union organizers are expecting a 100% participation rate from the staff, said Terry Carter, spokesperson for SEIU 2015, which represents more than 400,000 long-term care workers in California, including those at Sunnyside. If there is no response from the administration to this strike, the bargaining team is keeping additional, longer strikes as a bargaining tool, she added.

A tentative agreement on the contract before Wednesday would avert the strike, Carter said.

Sunnyside has 107 licensed beds according to the California Department of Health Care Access and Information. Rodriguez said the majority of the patients are Mexican.

Maria Xiquin, SEIU 2015 union regional director who represents long-term care workers in Central Valley and Central Coast facilities, said Sunnyside is “a bad example of how you treat patients, how you treat staff.”

“This is one of those facilities where I’m just shocked by the things that are happening,” Xiquin said. “We want to bring attention to this facility because it’s not fair for the patients. It’s not fair for the staff.”

Mario Marasigan, who has owned Sunnyside since late last year, defended the facility’s treatment of its residents and employees.

“We will continue to strive to provide the best care possible to our residents,” he said in a statement emailed to The Bee. “As for the staff, it is also unfortunate that some will alleged that we are treating them badly.”

“Managing a nursing home takes a village and every individual working should be able to roll their sleeves and contribute with the work,” he continued. “Change doesn’t occur overnight but as long as everyone is onboard and following the direction, then I am confident that we can achieve our goals.”

Union alleges low staffing levels at Fresno nursing home

Contract bargaining between union members and facility operators has been ongoing since February, SEIU 2015 said in a press release.

A major grievance for Rodriguez and union representatives is Sunnyside’s low staffing levels, which they said affect both residents and staff. The union said there’s been a “whopping” 75% drop in staff in the last year and a half.

Amid the negotiations, the union said remaining Sunnyside workers are left to perform duties from workers who have left, including some for which they are not qualified.

There are moments when there is only one staff member assigned to each side of the building, resulting in more work and less time to care for patients individually, Rodriguez said.

“They don’t get the care that they deserve because you’re tied between running up and down, answering call lights, changing patients, passing meals, there is no time,” he added. “It’s really difficult.”

In an email to The Bee, Marasigan didn’t respond to questions regarding specific staffing shortages at his facility. He acknowledged that nursing homes are generally facing staffing issues, and said facilities like his are competing for employees with hospitals and staffing agencies.

Nursing home staff allege bouncing paychecks

Along with their staffing concerns, employees say their paychecks have bounced, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez lives in Fowler and cashes his checks at a liquor store, he said.

“Most of my family lives here, and it’s embarrassing that he (the store owner) has to call me up and say, ‘hey, know that your boss is bouncing another check.’”

He said the current supervisors tell them to not cash checks until 4 p.m. or later.

“Even after we cashed it, the checks would bounce. It is an ongoing thing,” Rodriguez added.

Besides the bounced checks, some staff members are being paid in gift cards, the union alleged.

“Employees receiving the gift cards say they’ve been told that all normal payroll deductions have been applied, but they’re not able to verify,” the union said.

Marasigan declined to respond to The Bee’s questions about paychecks bouncing, citing the facility’s active bargaining with the union. He denied allegations that the facility pays employees using gift cards.

“We don’t pay employees gift cards,” he said. “We did give out some gift cards during the holidays and to some employees as a recognition for the care they provided to our residents and also with going above and beyond.”

Xiquin with SEIU 2015 said Sunnyside staff is at a crossroads.

“Our members are having to deal with paying their bills on time, bringing food to the table and having to make the hard decision of leaving their patients in order to find a job that can help them pay their bills,” she added.

Nursing home patients will ‘suffer’ during strike, staff says

After working years as a full-time staff member at Sunnyside, Rodriguez has been an on-call nurse for six years while working a different full-time job during the day. It’s the only way he can continue seeing his patients, he said, since staff who are fired or quit aren’t allowed back at the facility.

“The residents, they’re family. Which a lot of them don’t have,” Rodriguez said.

During the hardest times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rodriguez said the staff kept showing up for their patients. Since then, the cost of living has increased and staff wages remained the same, Rodriguez added.

“People were dying all around us and we kept on working,” he said.

Rodriguez said Sunnyside workers are frustrated that contract negotiations have not progressed, forcing them to leave their patients unattended while they strike.

“It hurts us to know that we have to push this to this point because why would you do that to the residents? Because they are the ones that are going to suffer,” Rodriguez said. “When your hand is forced, it’s kind of depressing, actually, because it’s not fair for the residents.”

In 2008, the Sunnyside nursing staff went on strike after not getting paid. In 2016, Sunnyside’s then-owner was arrested after allegedly stealing money from residents’ trust accounts to cover his own debt. Sunnyside’s ownership has changed since then.

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