FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Contact: Emily Dong, 267-761-1502; firstname.lastname@example.org
Over 120 Nursing Home Workers Win Contract With New Meyersdale and Western Reserve Owner
The new contract will keep strong wages and benefits after the new owner had refused to honor the union contract.
(ERIE and MEYERSDALE, Pa.) — More than 120 workers at Meyersdale Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center (Meyersdale) and Western Reserve Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center (Erie) won a new, three-year agreement with Abraham Smilow, the new owner. Workers overwhelmingly voted to ratify the contract just days after deciding to strike when Smilow refused to accept the existing union contract.
This new contract preserves much of the union contract workers and current owner Guardian Healthcare agreed on last August. Highlights include keeping dramatic wage increases and strong benefits designed to retain and recruit staff amidst a workforce crisis.
“We weren’t going to give up all that we had without a fight,” said Kryslyn Slother, a licensed practical nurse who has been at Western Reserve for over 30 years. “We came together and decided very quickly, within days, to strike for our contract if we had to. It was terrifying to think about a new owner and not having any idea of what his intentions were. Now we can say that we are glad that we kept most of what we had worked so hard for.”
“We’re happy with the contract we were able to keep with the new owner,” said Tabby Vought, a certified nursing assistant who has worked at Meyersdale for 38 years. “It takes care of the staff who stayed through Covid because we love our residents, who have been here for a really long time. This isn’t easy work. Not a lot of people want to come into the nursing field. We’re short everywhere, so we have to keep the staff we have and work to bring more in. That starts with decent wages and good benefits, which is what we’ve worked hard to get in our contract.”
For decades, caregivers have spoken out about the impact of rampant sales on resident care. Change of ownership regulations were finally passed last year as part of comprehensive nursing home reforms meant to stabilize the industry in Pennsylvania. Guardian’s announcement of the two facilities’ sale to Smilow came with short notice, leaving residents and their families with concerns and workers with uncertainty about their contract.
“Guardian didn’t do right by the residents and the staff,” said Julie Walker, a certified nursing assistant for 18 years at Meyersdale. “There’s no reason to not give us or the residents immediate notice of who might buy the building or who bought the building. When a company decides to sell their buildings, the residents and staff should not have to suffer and worry about what’s next. This is business for the company, but this is home for the residents.
“I have a family member who’s a resident here, so this is personal,” said Vought. “I know how residents feel. I feel relieved knowing that my loved one is safe and content. Residents should feel comfortable, not scared, when a sale happens. What does it say about the way sales happen in this industry if residents feel in the dark?”
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro’s Administration is still in the process of implementing the new regulations which require buyers to notify residents, workers, and the long-term care ombudsman of the sale with notice. In the backdrop of President Biden reaffirming the federal crackdown on the transparency of nursing home ownership, union caregivers across the state are taking the lead in demanding accountability around new owners honoring existing contracts.
“We’re glad that Abraham Smilow worked together with us to keep this union contract that takes care of the staff who’ve shown up for residents for all these years,” said Walker. “We look forward to building a good relationship with the new owner that benefits everyone, especially our residents. The residents need us all as one big team.”
SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania is the state’s largest and fastest-growing union of nurses and healthcare workers, uniting tens of thousands of professional and technical employees, direct care workers, and service employees in hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, home- and community-based services, and state facilities across the Commonwealth. SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania members are committed to improving the lives of health care workers and ensuring quality care and healthy communities for all Pennsylvanians.