NY nurses union’s pact sees private future

(TimesUnion.com) Nearly 250 workers at the county-run nursing home have agreed to a contract that gives them no raises for 2010, 2011 and 2012 as the union that represents them is signaling publicly that it is open to the idea that the facility may one day be run by some entity other than the county.

The union, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, has taken no official position on the fate of the 250-bed Albany Shaker Road facility other than that it remain open in some form, spokeswoman Mindy Berman said.

But Berman said Tuesday that the union is willing to work with County Executive Dan McCoy to figure out the best way forward so long that “the needs of all Albany County’s frail and elderly citizens are met.”

“Whatever entity runs the nursing home must be willing to accept folks, regardless of ability to pay and level of care,” Berman said in a statement. “Right now, privately owned facilities are not required to do that. We are working with county officials to ensure a plan where everyone will be able to receive the care they need, in their own community.”

Those caveats, however, may prove significant.

McCoy, who took office in January, has offered several paths for the money-losing facility, the future of which has become one of the most controversial issues in a county that is likely headed toward a second consecutive year of exceeding the state’s property tax cap.

One of the paths proposed by McCoy involves privatization of either the entire nursing home — through sale or lease — or just its management. Requests for proposals were issued for both earlier this year.

While McCoy’s office has not disclosed the results, both RFPs required bidders to in some measure work with the nursing home’s unions.

Under the RFP seeking to privatize the facility’s management, bidders were required to honor the unions’ “existing” contracts and commit to accepting low-income Medicaid patients that, according to boosters of public nursing homes, private facilities avoid to protect their profit margins.

The RFP governing the facility’s lease or sale contained, however, different language pertaining to the unions, requiring only that bidders “recognize” them and “bargain collectively in furtherance of new collective bargaining agreements between the parties.”

Virtually every aspect of the nursing home remains in flux. The county’s nearly two-year-old application with the state to build a newer, smaller facility has stalled at the Department of Health amid questions about costs.

Meanwhile, county lawmakers, the majority of whom support construction of the new nursing home to ensure that the poorest and most needy patients have a place to go, have twice balked at approving nearly $700,000 in federally mandated sprinkler improvements to the existing building, which must be finished by next August lest the county risk losing federal Medicaid money on which it relies.

Nursing home workers were among hundreds of county employees who received 60-day layoff warnings from McCoy last month, a signal that job cuts — while not a certainty — could be on the horizon if the county can’t save money elsewhere.

Still, Berman said the new contract approved Monday night by the County Legislature, provides a somewhat stable platform from which the union can work with the county on the way forward.

“We said, ‘Look, before we even discuss and get involved with the future of the nursing home, let’s talk about providing some level of certainty for the workers in terms of a contract,'” Berman said. “We’re working with the county executive to figure out what the best way is. … We just don’t know yet.”

McCoy’s administration has cited the uncertain fate of the facility as one of the reasons recruiting and keeping full-time staff has been difficult, leading the county to ask the legislature to for several hundred thousand dollars in changes to bolster the nursing’s home’s overtime and temporary help budgets. Lawmakers, however, have yet to approve those changes.

“A lot of the staff is really a little bit nervous about what’s going to happen in the future. Although we didn’t get any raises or anything, at least we know that there is a contract there,” said Donna McBean, a registered nurse who’s worked at the nursing home for more than two decades. “What most of them are concerned with is that they have a job. It would be better to have that than have nothing at all.”

The new 1199SEIU contract applies to two bargaining units covering workers ranging from nurses to maintenance staff. The previous contracts expired at the end of 2009. The new pact includes the chance that workers could receives raises in the 2013, pending future negotiations.

About 70 members of the nursing home’s Professional Staff Association, an affiliate of New York State United Teachers that represents supervisors and clerical staff, remain without a contract, NYSUT spokesman Matt Smith said. He declined to comment on the status of those negotiations.

 

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