Avella ensnared in Ozanam talks

Certified Nursing Assistant Cheryl Vanputten (c.) signs a letter asking the Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio to step in on behalf of patients at Ozanam Hall, as Local 342 spokeswoman Kate Meckler and Assemblyman Rory Lancman look on. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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Supporters of union workers at Ozanam Hall gathered outside the Bayside nursing home last week to call on the bishop of Brooklyn to put an end to policies they contend are detrimental to patient care, although one area lawmaker was noticeably missing.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) had announced he would attend the Friday morning meeting across from the home on 201st Street, but his invitation was retracted by UFCW Local 342 after he had a conference call with Ozanam management late last Thursday.

“I was politely dis-invited,” explained Avella, who said management reached out to him the day before to share their side of the story.

The union’s 400-plus workers have been without a contract for two years, and they claim resident care has suffered since management decided to stop replacing staff who call in sick.

“The staffing levels are not enough to give the residents the same amount of care I’d like to receive if I was in their position,” said Certified Nursing Assistant Cheryl Vanputten.

Union spokeswoman Kate Meckler said the home was looking to cut regular work week hours from 37.5 to 35 hours and was claiming it could not provide a fair wage increase for employees because of economic hardship. She said an audit of the home revealed it had $55 million in reserve funds.

“We call on the home to explain why they cannot use some of that money to give the hardworking staff a fair wage increase,” she said.

Neither management nor the Brooklyn bishop’s office returned a request for comment, athough Ozanam Hall released a statement on the matter back on May 7.

“We understand the employees’ frustration and we have made proposals, which take into account the employees’ needs and the home’s long-term crisis,” Ozanam Hall said. “So far the union has rejected our proposals. Neither side has declared an impasse and more negotiations are scheduled.”

State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), chairman of the Subcommittee on Workplace Safety and a candidate for the 6th Congressional District, said he had not had any conversations with management and he supported the workers.

“If the people who work in this facility and really make it the great facility that it is ... are telling us that they are not able to deliver the level of care that they’re used to and they think the residents deserve and that drove them to get into this profession in the first place, we should really listen very closely,” he said before signing a letter asking the Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, to step in on behalf of the residents.

Meckler said Avella originally agreed to sign the letter, but then e-mailed her to say he had changed his position after the conference call with management.

“I dis-invited him because he said he was not going to sign the letter,” she said.

Avella said he never intended to sign the letter but rather wanted to step in and advocate that the two sides negotiate in good faith on the contract.

“It’s hard to know where the truth lies when you come into a situation like this with such divergent positions,” he said. “Sometimes the truth is in the middle.”

Avella said he will tour the facility with management.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 11:10 pm, May 23, 2012
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