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Nursing home workers to picket over wages, understaffing

Daily News - 7/7/2022

Workers at Fountain View Subacute and Nursing Center in Los Angeles plan to picket the facility Thursday, July 7, saying they’re understaffed, in need of higher wages and grappling with high turnover.

The 50 employees — including certified nursing assistants, dieticians, cooks, laundry workers, janitors and housekeepers — are represented by SEIU Local 2015. Their current labor contract expired Jan. 1.

Management, the union said, has canceled three bargaining sessions and has yet to address their concerns.

Fountain View and seven other Southern California nursing homes are managed and operated through a partnership between Genesis HealthCare and NewGen. They collectively employ about 400 workers.

Representatives of the companies could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Judith Acquino, a certified nursing assistant at Fountain View for 15 years, said she knows what it’s like to be short-handed. She’s supposed to care for 12 patients a day but often deals with as many as 18.

“It directly affects the care we provide,” the 47-year-old Los Angeles resident said recently. “Sometimes they need immediate help and we don’t have sufficient time to get to everyone.”

Acquino said she and her co-workers often are overwhelmed as a result.

“We have high stress levels,” she said. “We’re tired and burned out. Management and the department heads want us to get everything done, regardless of the number of patients we have.”

Employees are calling for the formation of a California quality standards board that would establish industry-wide standards for the state’s nursing homes and their essential workers.

The nursing staff at Fountain View currently earn $18 to $19 an hour and non-nursing workers make $16.20, union representatives said. SEIU bargaining teams are seeking a wage floor of $20 for all employees.

They’re also calling for higher staffing requirements and stronger healthcare benefits. Their existing healthcare plan doesn’t include family members. Management covers 75% of the monthly premium costs but wants to lower that to 50%, SEIU said.

Speaking in May, SEIU 2015 representative Karen Rodriguez said the situation is frustrating.

“The employers are refusing to bargain,” she said. “They are offering a one-time bonus of $1,000 instead of a raise, and they also want to decrease their contribution to healthcare benefits.”

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, who is scheduled to appear at Thursday’s 10 a.m.-to-noon protest, attended another rally at the facility in May. That was part of SEIU’s statewide day of action — their fourth in as many months — to draw attention to the industry’s “Great Resignation” crisis and low staffing levels.

Santiago said a quality standards board would ensure that nursing home caregivers are “protected, respected and adequately paid.”

“Nursing home workers have been on the front lines providing vital care to our community’s most vulnerable residents throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Santiago said in a statement. “At the same time, they’ve been paid low wages and forced to endure poor working conditions, which has led to skyrocketing turnover rates in nursing home facilities across the state.”

SEIU 2015 represents more than 400 nursing home workers and home care providers in California.

Nursing home workers have been hit hard by COVID-19, suffering high infection rates that brought national attention to the troubled industry. More than 238,000 nursing home workers left the industry nationwide since the start of the pandemic, SEIU 2015 said, and California lost 11% of its nursing home workforce — all in the face of increased demand.

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