New York nursing homes reach deal with 33,000 union workers

Small said similar support for other nursing homes will be part of Hochul’s upcoming executive budget.

Neil Heyman, chief executive of the Southern New York Association, which represents more than 60 skilled-nursing facilities in the metropolitan area, said gubernatorial involvement in the collective-bargaining process was unprecedented and credited Hochul’s funding commitment as sealing the deal.

Union officials had requested a roughly 40% increase in health benefits funding to reflect the rise in members’ health care spending during the pandemic, Heyman previously told Crain’s. Nursing home owners said they could not afford such a large increase—at least, not without state assistance.

The funding commitment, which Hochul’s office and 1199SEIU did not mention in their announcements of the agreement, is meant to bridge the gap. Heyman said nursing homes will collectively pay about 4.5% more into the health fund. The exact figures are still being determined, as stakeholders finalize the contracts.

The agreement stipulates a 3.5% salary increase in the contract’s first year and 3% in each of the following two years, as well as a $1,500 bonus to be paid out in January. Other changes include adding Juneteenth as a paid holiday and new language to add protected job status for members with 10 or more years on the job and to negotiate future bonuses during public health emergencies.

The terms apply to two separate contracts that collectively cover nearly 33,000 nursing home employees. Both have a start date of Oct. 1, meaning workers will receive retroactive pay bumps, Heyman said. He said the union and nursing homes previously discussed $3,000 bonuses and smaller annual wage increases. They agreed on the current arrangement, which he said factors out to roughly the same amount, so the money will be spread out over time.

The union said all but one nursing home—the 134-bed Campbell Hall Rehabilitation Center in Orange County—signed on, prompting 48 of the facility’s employees to go on strike Wednesday.

Owner Jerry Wood, who said he negotiates on his own behalf rather than as part of one of the nursing home industry blocs, said the union had not invited him to negotiating sessions. He added that he had not seen a copy of the tentative agreement.

“It’s tough to sign a contract that they haven’t presented to me,” Wood said. “They haven’t even tried to negotiate with me.”

He said he would agree to the annual percentage increases in wages if his nursing home’s pay rates serve as the denominator, rather than the rates for workers in the five boroughs. He said he is also in favor of the $1,500 bonus and increased funding for health benefits.

George Gresham, president of 1199SEIU, said the union secured a strong contract that recognized the sacrifices of nursing home workers during the pandemic.

“From raises to an in-hand bonus, workers can rest better knowing their efforts aren’t just being recognized with banners outside of their facilities and catered lunches but with the respect and dignity they have earned as heroes,” Gresham said in a statement.

The contract agreements now await ratification by 1199SEIU members.

1199SEIU represents roughly 325,000 health care workers statewide, including 65,000 nursing home employees.

This story first appeared in our sister publication, Crain’s New York Business. 

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