California Workers Settle Contract With Atlanta Nursing Home Firm

Saturday, July 12, 2008 General News
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Agreement Shows Strength of 'One Healthcare Union' Approach

OAKLAND, Calif., July 11 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- By an overwhelming majority, nursing home workers at 10 California facilities have ratified a groundbreaking new contract covering more than 1,000 employees, which includes some of the highest nursing home wages in the state and strengthens their ability to provide quality care for residents.

SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West represents caregivers at 10 facilities operated by Atlanta-based Mariner Health Care, a leading nursing home employer that has invested in its workforce to provide some of highest quality of resident care in the nursing home industry.

The new contract brings long-term care workers' wages closer to the acute care industry by linking workers' wages on a percentage basis with those at Kaiser Permanente hospitals, where workers are also members of UHW. It also establishes first-of-their-kind patient care committees that improve workers' ability to work with Mariner to improve quality of care.

"We're excited. This is one of the best contracts in the nursing home industry," said Ruby Guzman, a certified nursing assistant at Creekside Health Center in San Pablo. "It's also great to have a better relationship with our management, where we work together to improve care at our facilities."

The contract covers workers at the following facilities: Fremont Health Center; Hayward Hills Healthcare Center, Driftwood Healthcare Center, and Parkview Convalescent Hospital in Hayward; Florin Healthcare Center in Sacramento; Almaden Health and Rehabilitation Center and Skyline Convalescent Hospital in San Jose; Creekside Health Center and Vale Care Center in San Pablo; and Pine Ridge Care Center in San Rafael.

The agreement was lauded by experts in the nursing home field. Charlene Harrington, professor of sociology and nursing at UC San Francisco, said the contract is superior to those reached under the now-defunct California Nursing Home Alliance -- a partnership between nursing homes and unions that fell apart in 2006.

"UHW's recent settlement with Mariner Health Care facilities in Northern California shows there is a better path to improve nursing home quality," Harrington said. "This settlement empowers caregivers to stand up for their residents, unlike the Alliance agreement that discouraged such advocacy."

Under the terms of the agreement, workers will receive wage increases as high as 16 percent over the life the contract, which runs for two years with an option to extend to a third year. Starting nurse assistants' wages can reach $16.61 during the term of the agreement, the highest starting pay for this position in a nursing home in California. Additionally, it includes several employment security guarantees, which are the first of their kind in an industry often marked by instability and high turnover.

Mariner also agreed to a code of conduct for organizing drives at facilities where workers are not yet represented by a union. The agreement embraces the model that UHW has established with the hospital industry in California.

The contract represents the first major agreement reached during UHW's historic 2008 campaign, in which more than 75,000 healthcare workers throughout California will negotiate new contracts. Healthcare workers at more than 100 nursing homes and over 50 hospitals are seeking new agreements in what may be the largest-ever coordinated bargaining effort in the healthcare industry.

Building on the success of this coordinated approach, UHW has proposed bringing all healthcare workers in California into a single local of SEIU, rather than keeping them scattered across several different locals.

With more than 150,000 members, SEIU Un

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