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‘Taking a stand.’ After one-day strike, Fresno nursing home staff could walk out indefinitely

The Fresno Bee - 9/23/2022

Following a one-day strike this week, nursing staff at Sunnyside Convalescent Hospital are threatening to walk out indefinitely next month if the facility’s owner doesn’t return to the bargaining table to address their allegations of unsafe staffing levels, bounced paychecks and some staff not being paid minimum wage.

Workers represented by SEIU 2015, which covers more than 400,000 long-term care workers in California, have been negotiating with facility management since February and haven’t reached an agreement that could improve their working conditions, the union said in a statement.

Staff members are now intensifying their efforts to bring change to the facility. After a 12-hour strike Wednesday, they’re prepared to walk off the job again beginning Oct. 6 unless Sunnyside owner Mario Marasigan agrees to bargain with the union, according to SEIU 2015 spokesperson Terry Carter.

Marasigan said previous bargaining sessions were rescheduled because members of both the union and management got sick. He said he intends to resume negotiations and hopes to avert another strike.

“Right now, we are in discussion for dates when all parties can be at the table, so hopefully we meet before the next scheduled strike so we can solve it and leave it behind us,” Marasigan told The Bee Thursday.

“We are doing everything in good faith,” he added.

Nursing home staff call for better pay, working conditions

As part of the one-day strike Wednesday, nearly 60 people — including current and former Sunnyside nurses, community members and a couple of patients — marched on the side of Peach Avenue, at the edge of an empty lot in front of the nursing home in southeast Fresno. They carried purple umbrellas to shield themselves from the Central Valley sun.

“What do we want? Safe staffing! When do we want it? Now!” they chanted. They waved signs that said, “bounced checks is disrespect.”

Among those protesting Wednesday was Sunnyside housekeeper Sylvia Gomez. She said ownership of the facility has changed three times during the eight years she’s worked there. Marasigan has owned Sunnyside since late last year.

“Through the ups and downs, I have gone nowhere because I care about the patients, so I do what I’ve got to do for them,” Gomez said.

She participated in the strike to call for improved pay, staffing levels and working conditions, she said. Gomez said she’s received just one recent raise, which increased her pay to $15 an hour.

“I was making $14.99 and so when they raised me, they raised me one cent,” she said.

The union in May requested the state Department of Health Care Services conduct an audit of the facility’s wages, alleging management isn’t paying staff minimum wage for the nursing home industry, according to Maria Xiquin, SEIU 2015 regional director, who represents long-term care workers in Central Valley and Central Coast facilities.

Minimum wage in California is currently $15 an hour for employers with 26 or more employees; management should be paying 58 cents above that wage for non-medical staff and 78 cents above that for medical staff, she said.

Regarding the audit, Marasigan said: “We are in an active bargaining agreement process and can’t go into details, but I am aware of the state audit and it needs to be completed.”

Gomez also said bounced checks are a recurring problem.

“Every time we get paid, we have to worry about our checks and our balances when we deposit them,” she said. “They told us to go to their bank and cash it, and then deposit it at ours, but why should we do all of that when we have our own banks?”

Marasigan declined to comment on the allegation of bounced checks, citing the ongoing bargaining negotiations.

City leaders join striking nursing home staff

Fresno councilmember-elect Annalisa Perea and councilmember Luis Chavez marched in solidarity with protesters.

Chavez said he is the son of a retired homecare worker and SEIU 2015 member.

“It’s a tough job,” he said. “I think people sometimes don’t understand how difficult this job is.”

Chavez pledged to contact Marasigan and request that he “come to the table” and negotiate a fair contract with Sunnyside workers.

“If he doesn’t, then this is a matter that the state should intervene in,” Chavez said.

Kim Evon, SEIU 2015 executive vice president, said Sunnyside workers need to be respected, protected and paid appropriately.

“That’s why they’re out here, they are taking a stand,” she said. “They have tried rationalization and reason and at the end of the day, there’s a deaf ear put to them.”

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