November 26, 2015
By Bill Hohlfeld
While many of us were reviewing guest lists while we stood in line at grocery stores in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday, the Licensed Practical Nurses who are employed at the Northern Riverview Healthcare Center in Haverstraw, Rockland County, were completing their shifts and heading for another line – a picket line.
The reason for their informational picket was to let their community know about their current struggle at Riverview. The cars and trucks on a busy Route 9W honked in recognition and approval. In a 33 to 0 vote last April, this group of health care professionals decided to become members of Local 1199 of the SEIU. That is not all that surprising when one realizes that 140 of the the other employees at the facility, with jobs ranging from housekeeping to building maintenance and the Certified Nursing Assistants, were already under the protective umbrella of that union. Unfortunately, that was not the end of their struggle,but in some ways, the beginning. Since April the union has negotiated in good faith on no fewer than 8 separate occasions, yet still does not have a signed contract.
The main sticking point seems to be Center for Specialty Care’s CEO Kenneth Rozenberg’s refusal to budge on,astoundingly enough, health care benefits! Rosenberg refuses to participate in 1199’s Greater New York benefits fund, which would provide his employees with the level of health insurance that is considered to be the norm in the industry.“There is nothing unreasonable and everything right about the LPNs’ contract proposals,” said 1199SEIU Vice President Greg Speller, who stood on line with his members. “It’s been proven time and again that collective bargaining agreements, which provide healthcare workers with decent wages and benefits, help to recruit and retain quality nursing home staff. Stabilizing turnover and allowing for continuity of care for residents is the right thing to do.” Mr. Speller went on to cite an impressive list of health care facilities in the area which do provide the type of employee health care insurance the workers are seeking, some of which are also managed by Mr. Rozenberg’s company. “It’s an area standard we are seeking, nothing more,” said Speller.
We’ve offered other concessions at the bargaining table, but this is important.”To get a good feel for just how important it is to these nurses, one need only speak to Roland Alexander, an LPN at Northern Riverview for two years now. He is a Rockland County resident, a husband and the father of 3 young children. At work, he is responsible for the care of some of the most frail and vulnerable population at the facility. His story is an all too familiar one: “I love my job—but I have to take care of myself and my family too.The health insurance that the employer offers for families is $350 a week! What family can afford that? I have a lot of responsibilities, and one of them is to be sure that when my children get sick, they get the medical care they need. Paying for health benefits uses up almost every dollar I earn.” It seems blatantly unfair to the LPNs at Northern Riverview that not only do they not receive the same benefits as their peers in other facilities, they do not receive the same as the CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants) with whom they work on a daily basis. Mr. Alexander also points out that there are repercussions for the patients as well as for him and his colleagues.
“It’s the same for anyone who works in a nursing home with vulnerable residents. If we can’t afford to go to the doctor when we are sick, that’s not good for the residents, and that’s just not good for anyone.”This Thanksgiving holiday many of these nurses will be scheduled to work. They will report for duty despite the fact that they have no contract and no health care insurance. The patients at Northern Riverview and their families will surely be thankful for that.