Workers rally during Day of Action

LEWISTOWN – A group of employees from Golden LivingCenter-William Penn picketed the nursing home’s parking lot on Thursday afternoon in demand of better wages and improved resident care. The demonstration was part of a statewide Day of Action, involving SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania union members.

“Our message today is ‘Quality Care and Quality Jobs,'” said Donna Heimbach, a certified nursing assistant at William Penn. “We’re trying to spread awareness that something needs to change in the nursing home industry.”

As they protested along Summit Drive, union members held signs reading “One job should be enough,” “Resident care first” and “Be fair to those who care.”

The protest was held in response to recent nursing contract negotiations between SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and Golden LivingCenters, Heimbach said. It’s part of a last ditch effort, during an already extended deadline of negotiation, to agree on better wages, additional training opportunities, increased staffing and extended hours of care per resident, she said.

The Pennsylvania nursing home industry makes a $500 million profit each year, said Brenda Fields, a union member who drove from Pittsburgh to attend the rally. They can certainly afford to spend more on fair wages and necessary staffing, she said.

Since negotiations began in January, wages have been a consistent issue on both sides, Heimbach said. On top of an already low starting salary, Golden LivingCenters is trying to decrease the yearly raise from 30 cents to 15 cents a year.

“How is that fair?” she asked.

“I’ve been working at William Penn for 15 years and I make $13.45 an hour,” Heimbach said. “As a single mother, it’s really difficult to make ends meet. I’m at work more than I’m at home.”

Brenda Crosson, a fellow union member and protester, works as a private home care nurse when she’s not working at William Penn.

“It’s difficult to support a family on what I make at the nursing home,” Crosson said. “Most months, I have to pick and choose what bills I can pay. A lot of us are forced to have two or three jobs.”

In response to employee concerns over salary, Wanda Page, William Penn administrator, stated that Golden Living Centers value their employees and has presented a fair and equitable offer for negotiation.

“We work to offer fair and competitive wages,” Page said. “We value all of our employees here and we are open to resolving any issues there may be.”

Negotiations are set to continue April 24 and 25, Heimbach said. Union members are planning to discuss wages as well as a mandatory increase in hours of care per resident, she added.

“Currently, each resident receives 2.7 hours of care per day, fitting in a nurse, certified nursing assistant and restorative nurse aid in that time,” Heimbach said. “We’re pushing for 2.1 of those hours to be used specifically by a CNA so residents get more bedside care. It would give us more time with people that deserve it.”

To achieve these changes, the union has turned to state representatives in support of recently-introduced legislation that would require nursing homes to meet a minimum level of nurse aide staffing, report turnover and staffing levels to the Department of Health and spend a minimum amount of their Medicaid resident care per diem rate.

“We’re not being greedy or unreasonable,” Heimbach said. “We’re simply asking for what is fair, for us and our residents. I’m thrilled with the idea of legislation that will increase the amount of time, money and accountability that goes toward improving care.”