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Union workers inspired by recent strike fight for higher pay and safe staffing

Posted at 6:51 PM, Nov 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 19:30:18-05

AMHERST, N.Y. (WKBW) — 1199SEIU workers at Weinberg Campus Assisted Living Facility in Amherst say staffing levels are at an all time low.

“If it wasn’t for the staff pinching in and working 12 hour shift, these residents wouldn’t be fed at night and it’s heartbreaking,” said Jennifer Brzezinski, who is a cook at Weinberg Campus. “I do see the residents not getting the care they need because we don’t have enough staff.”

It’s a similar situation for Monique Alton who has worked at Weinberg Campus for more than 10 years.

“If I want to sit there with a resident I can’t do that because right now I have to get to the other residents and get to them,” said Alton.

All of these caregivers are part of 1199SEIU and say their contract with Weinberg Campus expired on Halloween.

Darlene Gates is the acting administrator for 1199SEIU. She’s worked at Weinberg for more than 20 years and says the union team was inspired by the CWA strike at Mercy Hospital.

“They took a great sacrifice to be out there for the rest of hospitals nursing homes we are all caregivers,” she said.

The members say many people inside are not making much more than minimum wage. They want to be fairly compensated, but most importantly want to be able to better take care of the residents they love.

“We love to spend time with our residents,” said Toni Black. “They’re family to us.”

They say more than 200 nursing home workers are currently working on an expired contract—and it’s only offered yearly as the sale of Weinberg Campus to Elderwood hasn’t been finalized.

They’re getting back to the table with Weinberg in December

“We’re willing to do whatever it takes,” Gates said.

Weinberg Campus CEO released the following statement:

“Weinberg Campus is in active negotiations on a contract with SEIU 1199 and have upcoming negotiation meetings scheduled. We are committed to coming to an agreement. We applaud and commend all of our employees for their commitment and dedication to providing quality care to our residents.

The long term care system in New York State is experiencing unprecedented stress. During the pandemic, the cost of caring for individuals receiving long term care services has increased significantly. At the same time, New York State reduced nursing home reimbursement rates in 2020, continuing a years-long trend of squeezing long term care providers. In a field where staff recruitment has been difficult for a number of years, these factors have only made the situation worse.

Like organizations and businesses across the country, especially long-term healthcare facilities similar to Weinberg Campus, we are actively recruiting for staff. We take staffing levels very seriously and have instituted new and creative ways to attract qualified candidates. The safety of our residents , and the quality of care they receive, continue to be our highest priority. By controlling admissions and closing patient care units, we adjust census to match our staffing levels.”