Getzville nursing home workers say they have ‘historic’ contract agreement, but pending sale is once again holding it up
Workers at a nonprofit nursing home in Getzville say they have a tentative contract agreement that will make them the highest-paid nursing home workers in Western New York, but that the long-pending sale of their facility is once again holding the contract up.
Approximately 200 workers at the Weinberg Campus ratified a two-year agreement with the facility's operators on Dec. 15, which includes a 23% increase in wages and a 6% increase in pensions.
It also includes a $16.50 minimum wage for certified nursing assistants and a $24 minimum wage for licensed practical nurses. That’s more than the average overall rate for those positions in the Buffalo-Niagara region, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The deal will make Weinberg Campus workers the highest-paid unionized nursing home workers in Western New York, according to the workers’ union, 1199 SEIU.
Grace Bogdanove, 1199 SEIU area vice president for nursing homes, called the agreement, as well as other recent contracts secured by the union, “truly historic, standard-setting contracts” for Western New York.
“What we've had to fight for and what these workers have been fighting for all year … is making sure that we have wages that compensate workers for their experience, and benefits packages that will attract and retain quality workers in these facilities,” she said
Weinberg CEO Robert Mayer also hopes it will help attract more workers amid a national shortage. Nursing homes nationwide have lost over 400,000 workers, about 12% of their workforce, since the onset of the pandemic in February 2020. Staffing levels at the Weinberg Campus’ nursing home, Rosa Coplon Jewish Home and Infirmary, are rated two stars out of five by the federal government, meaning below average.
“I think the whole job market has changed,” Mayer said. “You can look at retail and food and restaurants — they’re all increasing their wages. So we have to do the same thing.”
However, while workers ratified the deal nearly two weeks ago, it is still not finalized. That’s because Weinberg is set to be purchased by Elderwood, a for-profit nursing home chain, in a $47 million deal that has been pending before the state Department of Health for over four years.
The terms of the sale specify that Weinberg must get approval from Elderwood on any new collective bargaining agreements. Workers have said this resulted in them only receiving one-year contracts the last few years prior to the current two-year agreement. As of Monday evening, Elderwood had still yet to officially approve the contract
“What's unique in this situation is that it's not just Weinberg who has a say in this. It's the Elderwood corporation that has a say,” Bogdanove said. “We were really hoping that our members would be able to get their wages during the holiday season. So we're going to continue to reach out to Elderwood and hopefully we'll be able to settle that before the end of the year.”
Elderwood did not return a request for comment originally made last week. Company officials previously told WBFO they have no oversight of the campus and therefore can’t comment on negotiations.
However, Mayer said he does expect Elderwood to eventually approve the contract.
“Because the market is what it is, I don't see how they're not going to say OK,” he said.
Making matters more complicated, even if Elderwood approves the contract now, it could void or propose changes to the contract once the state approves the sale and Elderwood takes over the campus.
If Elderwood does take over the campus before the contract expires in October 2023 and wants changes, Bogdanove said 1199 SEIU is “ready to fight to keep what they have earned.”
For now, workers are happy with the agreement
Darlene Gates, an 1199 SEIU administrative organizer who helped negotiate the contract, said many workers came to see her in disbelief about their new wages.
“They wanted us to say it over and over again. ‘Is this my new rate? Is this what I'm getting? Do you know this means I can take care of my family?’” she said. “When you go into home care, you want to take care of residents, you want to take care of people, you're a caregiver. You don't want to be stressed and burnt out, so huge improvement.”
Shanta Myles is a home care aide for the Weinberg Campus and single mom of two who said she hadn’t previously considered the possibility of being a homeowner.
“Now I think I will feel more comfortable starting the process of buying a home with this increase,” she said.
Mayer said, although workers deserved the wage increases after working through the pandemic, the state has to help nursing homes pay for those increases. Nursing homes have long argued New York’s Medicaid reimbursements rates are too low, resulting in a $55 per day shortfall between what the state reimburses nursing homes to care for a Medicaid resident and what it actually costs to care for that resident.
Nursing homes have asked Gov. Kathy Hochul for increased Medicaid rates and are hopeful that may happen during the upcoming state budget and legislative session that begins next month, Mayer said.
“There's no way to continue to provide appropriate wages and the cost of living increases without some additional Medicaid funding,” he said.
As for the sale of the Weinberg Campus, Mayer said he has "no idea" when it will be approved by the state.
Jeffrey Hammond, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, said in an email that applications for construction and renovation were submitted along with the application for the change in ownership. Therefore, Hammond said, "multiple approvals" and a "number of specific contingencies must be met" in order to complete the sale. Meanwhile the agreement between the Weinberg Campus and Elderwood requires a single transaction to close on all assets at the same time.
Editor's note: Elderwood is a supporter of WBFO's Older Adults News Desk.