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Union members picket outside Ozanam Hall in Bayside, demanding new contract and better pay

Sep. 13, 2023 By Gabriele Holtermann

Union members and representatives of UFCW Local 342 rallied outside Ozanam Hall of Queens Nursing Home at 41-41 201st St. in Bayside on Sept. 12, demanding a fair contract and safer working conditions.

The over 200 Ozanam workers, which include licensed professional nurses (LPN), certified nursing assistants (CNA), dietary aides and service and maintenance workers, have been without a contract for over a year.

Union members and representatives of UFCW Local 342 rallied outside Ozanam Hall of Queens Nursing Home at 41-41 201st St. in Bayside on Sept. 12, demanding a fair contract and safer working conditions.

Besides higher wages, workers are asking for retirement benefits after their pension benefits were frozen in 2021 and affordable health care that lowers out-of-pocket costs. Additionally, they want Ozanam to address understaffing at the nursing facility, which leads to safety issues for personnel and patients.

According to Tanisha Williamson, recording secretary of UFCW Local 342, the union received numerous complaints from union members that three CNAs have to take care of 50 patients with varying degrees of needs, including bathing and feeding.

Tanisha Williamson, recording secretary of UFCW Local 342, speaks at a union rally outside Ozanam Hall in Bayside. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“Sometimes [CNAs] don’t take their breaks out of fear that they’re not going to get to attend to the residents,” Williamson explained. “Because they care for the residents and their needs, often putting [the residents’ needs] before their own.”

Margaret Lumaque has worked at Ozanam Hall, a 432-bed facility, for over 20 years and is also a member of the contract negotiating team. Lumaque said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff often stayed at the facility because they didn’t want to jeopardize their families and held the hands of dying residents because their families were not allowed to visit.

“We need a fair contract to be able to survive and take care of our family,” Lumaque said. “We’ve been working so many times with less people. We are short [staffed], but we still provide the job, and we take care of the residents. All we are asking from management is to be fair and consider it and give us what we are asking for.”

“Ozanam remains committed to settling a fair and reasonable contract for its dedicated employees,” Ozanam said in a statement to QNS. ” It is, however, disappointed by the false narrative the union tries to paint.  Although the parties’ contract expired in March 2022, the union did not contact Ozanam to set negotiation dates.  After many months of union silence, Ozanam had to reach out to commence bargaining. “It has proposed pay raises of more than 10% and offered to increase weekly paid hours, further increasing pay by another 7%. It has offered a very rich health insurance benefit with 95% of the premium cost paid by Ozanam. It has offered ‘enhanced rate’ CNA and LPN positions that could add another 10% to wages. Ozanam is a non-profit home, heavily reliant on government payors for funding to deliver care and cannot simply pass all cost increases along.  We respect the union’s right to picket, but it doesn’t have the right to mislead.”

Congresswoman Grace Meng, state Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, and state Senator John Liu stood in solidarity with the staff.

Meng recalled how New Yorkers came out during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, banging pots and pans at 7 p.m. every night to show their appreciation for first responders.

Congresswomen Grace Meng speaks at a union rally outside Ozanam Hall in Bayside.

“But as we said back then, it’s not just about rhetoric. It’s about actions and not just words,” Meng said. “So we are here to ask for a better quality of work situation for our workers. This is not a selfish ask from our workers. It is something that would benefit every single person inside. It would make sure that we have a healthier and safer work environment for all of our families.”

Braunstein said all the union members asked for a fair and reasonable contract and wages that keep up with inflation – currently, most of the union workers earn around $18 an hour.

State Assemblyman Ed Braunstein attends a union rally outside Ozanam Hall in Bayside. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

“You’re also asking for some compensation when you’re asked to do overtime or come in on a day off that really throws people off schedule,” Braunstein said. “And if you’re going to be away from your family, or if you’re going to have to make adjustments like that, you should be fairly compensated.”

Like Meng, Braunstein said that adequate staffing was a safety issue.

“It’s important for you, so you don’t have burnout, but it’s also important for the patients inside,” Braunstein said.

Union members and representatives of UFCW Local 342 rallied outside Ozanam Hall of Queens Nursing Home at 41-41 201st St. in Bayside on Sept. 12, demanding a fair contract and safer working conditions. Photo by Gabriele Holtermann

UFCW Local 342 has been trying to negotiate with Ozanam, which is run by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, for over a year. According to the union, Ozanam has hired an anti-union law firm that has shown animosity toward the union instead of addressing the needs of the employees and residents. According to Williamson, the union and Ozanam are scheduled to meet at the bargaining table on Sept. 26 to continue negotiations.

“Depending on how that meeting goes, we’ll decide whether or not further action needs to be taken,” Williamson said.

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