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Nursing home union in labor talks

Workers at the Ozanam nursing home in Bayside are looking to religious leaders for support in their fight against what they called illegal changes in working conditions. Photo courtesy UFCW Local 342
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Negotiations have heated up at Bayside’s Ozanam Hall nursing home as more than 400 members of the UFCW Local 342 union accused management of unfair working conditions and the employees reached out to the community to share their stories, distributing leaflets to visitors at the home.

Repeated calls to Ozanam Hall’s management were not returned.

According to the workers, cuts in hours have forced them to take on a heavier workload than normal, lessening the quality of care for their patients.

They said they are negotiating with management to maintain their current level of health insurance, vacation and personal day benefits. Their goal for wages, the union said, is a fair wage increase that will allow them to keep up with the cost of living.

After being opened in 1971, Ozanam Hall built a more than 30-year record in Bayside for serving elderly residents with both short-term rehabilitation and geriatric care. The 432-bed facility at 42-41 201st St. is administered by the Catholic Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.

“The hardest part of my job is when a resident calls for help, but I can’t get to them right away because I am too busy with all the other tasks that are being piled on top of me,” one certified nursing assistant at the home said. “My job would be easier if the home had enough staff. We are always short of coverage, which adds responsibilities to the workers and prevents us from covering all of the residents properly.”

The leaflet distributed by the union accused the home of unfair policies by reducing staff hours and not replacing workers who call in sick. According to the union, management has also implemented budget cuts without justification.

Jane Williams, another CNA of 10 years, said the home had stopped allowing the residents to have late night snacks after cutting funds.

“Many of us go out and buy the residents food with our own money just to keep them from feeling hungry,” Williams said. “All they want is a little something to eat after dinner once in a while.”

The union has been negotiating a new contract with Ozanam Hall management since the last one expired in 2010, workers said. An agreement has not been reached, with the union saying management blamed financial hardships for some of its troubles. According to the union, the home exaggerated its financial standing.

“The union auditor uncovered that the home has plenty of liquid money available in reserve accounts,” said Kate Meckler, the union’s director of communications. “There is no reason for them to be squeezing their loyal workers while also putting the residents’ care at risk. They clearly have the money.”

UFCW Local 342 has demanded that Ozanam Hall answer their calls of unfair working conditions for the benefit of the patients. They also called for a fair living wage increase for the members, including back pay for the last two years of what they called dead-end contract negotiations.

The union said it will continue negotiations with the home this week, which might result in a strike vote Friday if a solution is not reached.

“The union and our members are determined to achieve their goals,” Meckler said. “If this public outreach to the residents’ loved ones, as well as the community, does not force the home to do the right thing, more drastic measures will be taken.”

Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at pcorso@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4573

Updated 10:24 am, May 3, 2012
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