GOWANDA - Workers of the Gowanda Rehabilitation Nursing Center, a privately owned company, engaged in a 24-hour work stoppage Monday. About 100 workers ceased working from 6 a.m. Monday until 5:59 a.m. today.
The strike took place directly in front of the facility, located at 100 Miller St.
While the workers were on strike, an outside agency was brought in to continue operations of the facility and care for residents.
OBSERVER Photo by Samantha McDonnell
Gowanda Rehabilitation Nursing Center Workers, who are a part of 1199 SEIU, ceased working Monday for 24 hours due to failed contract negotiations.
The workers' 3-year contract expired on April 30, 2011, SEIU lead negotiator and organizer Jim Crampton said. The contract date was extended one month through the end of May, added Crampton. The workers are part of the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union.
"We're out here today because our contract negotiations are not complete. It seems to us that the employer was not serious about completing (the negotiations)," Crampton said. When the most recent negotiations were made the workers had given a 10-day notice well in advance regarding a possible strike. This notice is required to strike at a New York State health care facility. Negotiations were close on both sides but representatives from Gowanda Rehabilitation Nursing Center left without the negotiations being completed, Crampton said.
Crampton said the main reasons for participating in the work stoppage is to get affordable health care, to get days off that are needed and an attractive wage rate that retains workers.
"It's about keeping people here and making it an attractive place to work. (Gowanda) have made the place attractive inside ... and we appreciate them doing that ... but they forgot to pay attention to the workers and improve their conditions as well," Crampton said.
One of the important issues in the contract negotiations is health insurance. Under the old contract, workers receive full medical coverage. Under the proposed contract, health benefits would increase in cost.
Cynthia Roselle has worked for 12 years at the nursing home as an activity aide and has a husband who is unable to work. Without this health insurance, he will not be able to be taken care of.
"We need this health insurance. This is a major part of the contract," Activity Aide Cynthia Roselle said. "If they mess with our health insurance, a lot of us will not have health insurance. We cannot afford it."
Currently, employees who work as little as three days per week can qualify for health insurance under the old contract, Crampton said.
If health insurance rates increase, as the proposed contract states, Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Tammy Burdick will not have any health insurance. Burdick has worked as a CNA for 23 years.
Negotiations have been ongoing since May. The workers offered a choice of 11 dates for negotiations to management. The company chose two of these dates but canceled one.
While picketing today, residents from the nursing home were coming out and cheering on the workers, said Crampton, noting this strike is not about the residents.
This is the first formal strike for the workers. On June 18, they staged an informational picket where workers kept working but would picket once their shift ended. The workers hope to send a message that they are serious about negotiations.
"It's about healthcare. It's about keeping people here and making it an attractive place to work," Crampton said.
Further contract negotiations have not been scheduled yet.