LOCAL NEWS: Union pickets Ocala nursing home protesting low wages and insufficient staffing

Posted: 2014/05/02 by Punkonomics (@dearbalak) in Links/Articles/Video
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Union pickets Ocala nursing home

Business editor
Published: Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 7:19 p.m.

Alan Youngblood/Ocala Star-Banner
Members of the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East protest in front of The Lodge on Southeast Silver Springs Boulevard on Thursday May 1, 2014. The workers were protesting low wages and insufficient staffing.

Unionized workers at an Ocala nursing home who say they haven’t had a raise in more than two years answered management’s latest offer loudly, call-and-response style, while picketing outside the facility on Thursday afternoon.

“One dime/Ain’t worth my time,” they shouted as they marched in front of The Lodge Health and Rehabilitation Center at the busy intersection of Southeast 17th Street and Lake Weir Avenue.

Members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East took to the sidewalks outside The Lodge to express their disappointment at Greystone Health Network’s latest offer of a raise of 10 cents per hour.

“That’s kind of ridiculous,” said Jose Suarez, an 1199SEIU spokesman. “This is obviously a profitable company.”

Earlier in the day, speaking by phone as he traveled to Ocala from Miami, Suarez said the 50 to 60 union members at The Lodge and the rest of its employees “want to be respected for what they do.” He noted that the lowest starting wage at the Ocala facility is $7.79 per hour for a housekeeper.

“They’re caregivers,” he said. “I’m not trying to knock another career, but they’re not flipping burgers. They’re caring for our loved ones in these nursing homes.”

Union members also say Greystone’s staffing levels at The Lodge are inadequate, which affects patient care.

Officials with The Lodge and Greystone did not interact with the protesters as of mid-afternoon Thursday, but some did watch the demonstration from the railing of an overlooking building, including Terrie Banks, interim administrator, and Tricia Robinson, regional director of operations for Greystone.

Speaking in an office away from the demonstration, Banks would not address the pay issue.

“I am not involved in union negotiations,” she said. Asked who is, Banks and Robertson declined to say.

When asked about staffing, Banks replied, “We staff to state requirements.” She gave examples of 2.5 certified nursing assistants per patient per day and 1 licensed nurse per patient per day.

“We staff at or above that daily,” Banks said.

Meanwhile, Greystone officials have sent employees letters concerning the union’s protests. One, given to the Star-Banner by Suarez, was signed by “Teresa Evans, Vice President, Human Resources,” and another, furnished by Banks, had her signature Some, but not all, of the passages in the two letters have identical wording:

“The Union seems more interested in playing childish games with tweets and Facebook posts,” one reads.

For their part, the demonstrators were orderly, if boisterous. One man wielded a bullhorn as he led the call-and-response chants. Other picketers waved noisemakers fashioned from empty milk jugs filled with handful of pennies. As the lights changed at 17th and Lake Weir, drivers honked occasionally and some people waved from cars.

The demonstrators included Gloria Weems, a certified nursing assistant who has been a member of the union in its various forms for the 25 years she has worked at the facility.

“Most of us are the family for these residents,” Weems said. “We try to make sure they get the best quality care we can provide, but we all got families, and everything’s going up from the gas prices and everything. We deserve a raise.”

The picketers were not limited to current employees. Diana Rivera said she retired from The Lodge last year as a certified nursing assistant after 36 years, but she was at the demonstration “to help them because I know they need the help.”

When asked how hard the employees work, Rivera replied “Total hell half the time. Total hell. Push, push, push. It’s terrible.”

Liz Surdam, a housekeeper and a union steward, attended the protest despite having had surgery Monday and being off work under the Family Medical Leave Act. Surdam sat in a folding chair and said while she was in a little pain, she wanted to show support. When asked what the company could offer that would make her happy, Surdam replied, “In all honesty, we’d like a dollar, but hey, if we can get a quarter, we’ll be happy with that.”

The demonstration drew onlookers, including at least one resident. Melvin Goodman, 54, lost a leg to diabetes and gets around by means of a prosthetic and a motorized scooter.

“I came out to watch the picketing,” said Goodman, a onetime non-union trucker. “People say they put too much money in this building and they only gave them people a dime raise. That ain’t fair. Treat these people fairly.”

Thursday’s demonstration was a rare show of union presence in Marion County. 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East — affiliated with the Service Employees International Union — has some 400,000 members in an Eastern Seaboard region ranging from New York to Florida. The union’s Florida Division, which began around 2000 with some 1,000 members, now has about 25,000, Suarez said. Because of the size of the health care industry in Marion County, the area is seen as a fertile ground for organization, he said.

Greystone’s Robinson, on the other hand, downplayed the union’s showing outside The Lodge on Thursday.

“It has no impact,” she said. “We will continue to provide the best quality care, day in and day out.”

Contact Richard Anguiano at 867-4104 or richard.anguiano@ocala.com.

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