OP nursing home staff get pay boost

? Historic 21 percent pay pact follows vote by SEIU Local 4 healthcare staff to authorize strike.

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By BILL DWYER

The union representing healthcare workers at two Oak Park nursing homes announced a three year agreement with the Illinois Association of Healthcare Facilities (IAHF) last Wednesday that will significantly increase pay and benefits for workers in the 114 care facilities it represents.

"These raises, the best in Local 4 history, will help provide much needed stability in the long term care industry," said Local 4 trustee and chief negotiator Hal Ruddick. Workers at two Oak Park facilities, Oak Park Healthcare and Woodbine Nursing Home, were among nearly 5,000 union members who had voted 4,723 to 219 last week to issue a 10 day notice of intent to strike against nursing homes statewide. The lopsided vote followed five months of often acrimonious negotiations with the IAHF, during which the two sides were far apart on pay and healthcare benefit issues.

According to Local 4 Communication Director Paul Waterhouse, the union has been aggressively countering the IAHF's position, contacting state legislators, calling attention to alleged poor quality care at numerous nursing homes, and picketing at numerous facilities, including twice this year at Oak Park Healthcare, 625 N. Harlem Ave.

The tactics appear to have worked. In the wake of the union vote, the IAHF agreed to split the differences between the two sides  on pay, giving the union $1.55 in increases over three years, as well as increased health coverage. The agreement calls for hourly wage hikes of 70 cents in 2005, 45 cents in 2006 and 40 cents for 2007.

The new contract also addresses the concerns of long time employees, calling for longevity increases for employees with seniority. The agreement gives an additional 1 percent for workers with 15 to 19 years service, an additional 2 percent for 20 to 29 years service, and 3 percent for 30 years or more of service.

One of the two Oak Park nursing homes affected, Oak Park Healthcare Center, has been the subject of several Illinois Department of Health investigations over the past year, and has been fined $10,000 on two separate occasions by the state for what it alleges were instances of inadequate patient care.

One reason for the ongoing problems with patient care, according to Local 4, has been consistently high staff turnover at facilities such as Oak Park Healthcare, particularly among employees directly involved with patient care.

Ruddick referred to the turnover issue in his announcement, saying, "The improved pay, and the major improvements won in sick pay and seniority rights mean that nursing home employees can now see a future where their dedication to providing quality care to residents has finally been recognized, and valued, by the owners."

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