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Striking Pa. nursing home workers enter 4th day on picket line: ‘We’re worth more than that’

Patriot-News - 9/5/2022

Nearly three dozen workers braved the rain on Monday at the Gardens at West Shore near Camp Hill as a strike of nearly 700 nursing home workers in Pennsylvania stretched into a fourth day.

Holding signs that read “Better Nursing Homes Now!” and “Support Nursing Home Caregivers!,” the group, clad in rain gear and purple union t-shirts, drew attention from passing drivers, many whom honked in support.

“We’re out here fighting for our residents and fighting for our rights,” said Liz Wright, a union delegate and certified nursing assistant for more than 25 years. “We’re here one day longer, one day stronger.”

The nursing home is one of 14 across the state where talks broke down Sept. 2 between SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and two providers - Comprehensive Healthcare and Priority Healthcare. Nurses, health aides and support staff have been on the picket line all weekend, including at two Harrisburg area nursing facilities, the Gardens at West Shore and The Gardens at Blue Ridge in Susquehanna Township.

Along with wanting fairer wages, Wright said employees want the nursing homes to take better care of residents. Many workers, she noted are paying for supplies for residents with their own money.

“Me personally, I’ve bought soap and deodorant. We’ve bought food, because a lot of times they run out of the food and don’t have enough, so we go and buy that out of our pocket,” she said.

Rochelle Dennis, also a certified nursing assistant at the Gardens at West Shore, said she often brings food for the residents because the portions are so small.

“Everyone benefits, but the ones who are here taking care of the residents,” she said.

Around the state, the striking nursing home workers spent Labor Day engaged in union activities. In Pittsburgh, striking workers marched in the nation’s largest Labor Day parade, while other groups held cookouts, picnics and solidarity events, according to union press release.

As of Monday, Karen Gownley, a spokeswoman for SEIU Healthcare, said no bargaining dates have been set, although it’s possible a meeting with Comprehensive could come as early as this week.

The dispute centers around how for-profit companies use millions of taxpayer dollars to bolster caregiving in nursing homes.

At issue is how much of $600 million earmarked for long-term care homes by Gov. Tom Wolf and the Legislature will go to workers, many of whom say they are working longer hours, taking duties outside their jobs, and even rationing food for residents.

Employees like James Reynolds, a cook, said he sometimes covers three jobs including cooking and serving food to cleaning due to a lack of employees. He said his pay isn’t keeping up with his rising bills.

“We want some justice done. We want to be treated fair, we want fairer pay,” he said. “We just want to be treated like real people.”

Wright said the facilities aren’t wiling to give any type of raises, despite the millions of dollars they have received in funding. Starting wages for a nursing assistant, she said are around $15 an hour, which is comparable to companies like Sheetz.

“I think we’re worth more than that. We’ve been here in the building forever taking care of the loved ones, and I think we deserve it and I think the residents deserve it,” Wright said.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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