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‘Strung along with one-year extensions,’ nursing home workers say protracted sale to Elderwood is preventing long-term contract

Weinberg Campus nursing home workers attend the recent picket line at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo. The workers are now considering their own strike as they seek a multi-year contract despite their facility's pending sale.
Weinberg Campus nursing home workers attend the recent picket line at Mercy Hospital in Buffalo. The workers are now considering their own strike as they seek a multi-year contract despite their facility's pending sale.

Stephen Boyd has worked maintenance at the Weinberg Campus for over 20 years.

“We come here every day. We give everything we have for the people,” he said. “It's not really for the facility, it’s for the people that live here.”

But Boyd, and his 200 unionized co-workers, say they don’t feel secure at the 180-bed nonprofit nursing home in Getzville because they can’t secure a multi-year contract.

“We just felt as though one year doesn’t give us any stability,” he said.

Weinberg Campus employees say the long-stalled sale of the facility to a for-profit nursing home chain is hurting their ability to get a long-term contract.

Employees, whose one-year contract expired last month, have only received one-year extensions since Elderwood announced plans in 2017 to purchase the Weinberg Campus for $47 million. The deal, which includes the campus’ Rosa Coplon Jewish Home and Infirmary nursing home and assisted living facilities, is still pending approval from the New York State Department of Health.

Still, workers are now seeking a three-year contract.

“The members here have really been strung along with one-year contract extensions that have really acted as sort of band aids to serious critical staffing issues in the facility,” said Grace Bogdanove, area president of nursing homes for 1199SEIU, the union that represented Weinberg employees.

1199SEIU says it’s lost about 100 members at the nursing home in the last year alone. The federal government rates the facility two stars out of five for staffing levels, meaning below average.

The union argues a multi-year contract with undisclosed wage and pension increases is needed to recruit more workers and address the facility’s staffing shortages.

Workers are frustrated that Weinberg has instead hired expensive outside agency workers to fill the gaps, said certified nursing assistant Monique Halton.

“The agencies are getting better pay than us, but they’re not caring like we are caring, and we are the ones who are getting less pay,” she added. “I would rather go out and then come back [as] agency because I will get more money.”

Elderwood spokesperson Charles Hayes said in an email that, because the sale is pending, the company has no oversight of the Weinberg Campus and therefore cannot comment on negotiations.

1199SEIU Administrative Organizer Marshall Bertram said while Elderwood officials are not at the negotiating table, Weinberg officials have told the union that new contracts cannot be approved unless Elderwood officials agree to it.

“So we know that Elderwood and Weinberg are in close communications about every contract that we do,” he said.

The long-pending sale has “really kind of drained” the facility, Bertram added.

“People that care about this facility, that have worked here for years and dedicated their lives to Weinberg Campus, are really concerned where this is going, what kind of toll the sale and everything is having on the facility,” he said,

Workers at Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo recently returned to work with a new four-year contract from Catholic Health after a month-long strike. They were represented by Communications Workers of America.

Bogdanove said 1199SEIU is open to a strike at Weinberg.

“We certainly hope that we can avoid moving toward something like that,” she said. “But at this point, with the tone at the table and the lack of movement for management, it's something that our members are seriously considering.”

Editor's note: Elderwood is a supporter of WBFO's Older Adults News Desk.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.
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