Buffalo nursing home picket turns into celebration of new contract, pay raises
What was supposed to be a picket demanding better wages, turned into something closer to a party atmosphere Wednesday outside Buffalo Community Healthcare Center.
1199 SEIU, the union that had scheduled the picket last week, instead used the event to announce it had agreed earlier in the day to a new three-year contract with the operators of the 90-bed nursing home on Delaware Avenue.
Grace Bogdanove, 1199 area vice president for nursing homes, said the scheduled picket played a part in getting the deal done, more than three months after workers’ last contract expired Sept. 2.
“I think that this employer understands that if we bring this issue to the community, that's going to shed a bad line on this employer,” she said. “We really didn't want to have to take action today, but we felt after our last negotiation session that there was no way for us to reach an agreement without building some community pressure around this contract fight. I think that the employer saw that these workers deserve what they've been asking for, and they finally came to the table and agreed to a fair contract.”
1199 won’t divulge details of the Buffalo Community Healthcare Center contract until its members ratify it next week, but did say it includes wage and pension increases for nursing home workers they say had been among the lowest paid in the region.
That’s good news for workers like Angela Robbins, a CNA who’s been there for 16 years.
“We're happy with our wages, we're happy with the pension that we ended up coming out with, we’re happy with our whole three-year contract,” she said. “It was a fight. It wasn't easy, but we got what we asked for.”
Robbins said workers have been struggling with understaffing, with sometimes just two aides for an entire unit. Buffalo Community Healthcare Center’s staffing levels are rated two stars out of five by the federal government, meaning below average.
Making matters worse, Robbins said, is watching the nursing home hire outside agency staff who make more money than union members.
“It makes you feel not good when somebody could come in, get more than what I'm getting and I'm an in-house employee. I didn't feel like that was right at all. We didn't appreciate that at all.”
Bogdanove said between the new contract, as well as New York’s safe staffing law coming into effect Jan. 1, she hopes understaffing will no longer be an issue there.
“So with these new wages, hopefully, we'll be seeing an influx of workers and we'll be able to retain quality workers at this facility,” she said. “And that's one way that the employer is going to be able to meet these [safe staffing] standards, hopefully.”
The corporate owner of Buffalo Community Healthcare Center is Long Island-based Grand Healthcare System. Bruce Gendron, Grand Healthcare vice president of employee and labor relations, said in an email that the company is happy with the new contract.
“We are pleased that the Buffalo negotiations are complete as the new agreement will better position the Buffalo Community Healthcare Center to retain and recruit valuable staff during these challenging times,” he said. “We look forward to continued good relations with our labor partners at 1199SEIU.”
Buffalo Community Healthcare Center, rated overall one star by the federal government, was formerly Emerald North, before being taken over by Grand Healthcare in 2018.
Grand Healthcare closed its nearby sister facility, Emerald South, following two high-profile resident deaths under the previous ownership. William Strasner died after falling out of a third-story window in 2018, while Ruth Murray was beaten to death by another resident in 2016. Murray’s death was the inspiration for Erie County’s Ruthie’s Law, which a state justice recently declared unconstitutional.
1199 is still negotiating for a new contract at Grand Healthcare’s Rochester nursing home, Rochester Community Nursing and Rehabilitation. Bogdanove said she hopes the Buffalo contract can lead to a new contract in Rochester as well.
“They have the same owner, and so if the owner can do it here, the owner can do it there,” she said.
Gendron said the company’s most recent negotiation session in Rochester on Tuesday went well with “movement from both sides.”
“I’m optimistic that we are close to an agreement, as many of the same topics of discussion are the same at both sites,” he said.