Workers at nursing hall go on strike

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Hundreds of Ozanam Hall Nursing Home Workers remained out on strike at the Bayside facility Wednesday after late-night contract negotiations with management broke down about 1 a.m., a union spokeswoman said.

Union members walked out at midnight Monday after monthlong negotiations with Ozanam Hall failed to produce a new contract last weekend.

Sticking points in the contract talks included the demand that women employees be permitted to wear pants and that staffing and wages at the nursing home be increased. Union members contended understaffing at the home had led to more injuries among the workers, a charge the nursing home denied.

Management for the 201st Street facility said it had offered workers a fair wage increase, which the union rejected Friday. During a Monday afternoon interview a spokeswoman for the nursing home downplayed the dress code for female employees as being a key issue during the negotiations.

Kelly Egan, a spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 342, said negotiations appeared to be successful late Tuesday night and that workers had expected to go back on the job Wednesday. A vote on the new contract by union members was slated for Thursday.

“At about 1 a.m. we no longer had an agreement,” Egan said Wednesday morning. “We’re very shocked.”

Sister Philip Ann, one of the negotiators for Ozanam Hall, said Wednesday morning negotiations stalled because of language issues with the new contract but talks were continuing.

Crediting the Carmelite nuns who run the nursing home with helping out during the strike, she said management was hoping for a resolution to the conflict as soon as possible.

“We’re hoping that it gets taken care of,” the sister said when asked if a deal could be reached Wednesday. “There’s no way we want this.”

Egan said it was unclear why negotiations had faltered after a deal appeared to have been reached. Details of the negotiations were not readily available, but Egan did say women workers had been granted the right to wear pants.

Union members said Ozanam management had been unwilling to consider the workers’ demands during monthlong contract talks.

Magdalene Smolen, an assistant administrator at the home, said management had offered to sit down with workers Saturday and Sunday but it was the union that had failed to come to the negotiating table over the weekend.

After rejecting an offer from management Friday, union members went on strike at midnight Monday morning when their contract officially expired, a union spokeswoman said.

Hundreds of workers crowded the sidewalk across the street from the nursing home Monday morning, shouting “contract” and yelling loudly whenever a member of the nursing home’s management staff entered the building. Several residents of the nursing home sat in their wheelchairs in the building’s lobby, watching the strikers Monday morning.

Ozanam Hall at 42-41 201st St. is a 432-bed long-term care nursing home that is known throughout Queens for the quality of care it gives its patients.

Smolen, who is working with the negotiating team, said Ozanam Hall was getting by with about 200 non-union workers during the strike.

“We’ve just been inundated with help from the outside,” she said, noting that in addition to the 200 workers, many volunteers and family members have come in to help out.

In a news release issued Monday, Ozanam Hall said it had offered an 11 percent wage increase over three years to the workers that was rejected. Smolen also said the union failed to sit down for negotiations either Saturday or Sunday.

“The home stands ready to meet with the union to try to resolve the differences between the parties,” the news release said. “The home cannot understand why the Union won’t meet with us.”

But Egan said the contract offered by Ozanam Friday was not up to par.

“I don’t believe anybody could have gone home with any kind of dignity,” she said.

Members of the union, which represents service and maintenance workers as well as licensed practical nurses and certified nurses assistants, said they were seeking a number of changes at Ozanam.

Jane Lawson, a certified nursing assistant, or CNA, who has worked at Ozanam Hall for 28 years, said union members were also looking for appreciation from management.

“They have to show us a little respect,” she said.

Elsie Blackwell, also a CNA and a 29-year employee of Ozanam, said contract negotiations in the past had been relatively peaceful.

“It’s a long time coming,” she said of the strike.

Lawson said striking workers were particularly rankled when replacements bused in by Ozanam arrived wearing pants.

“They told us we’ll never wear pants,” she said.

Leslie Telles, a licensed practical nurse who has worked at Ozanam for three years, said the workload at the nursing home has gotten more demanding because patients need more care.

“The workload is getting heavier, They want more out of us but they’re not willing to compensate us,” Telles said.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

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