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Nursing home union deadlocks on contract Pact offers pay raises, lump-sum payments

A second vote will be held Thursday on a new union contract at a Lockport nursing home, after Tuesday's ratification vote ended in a tie.

Only 34 of the 110 unionized workers at the Odd Fellow and Rebekah Rehabilitation and Health Care Center voted on the proposed contract Tuesday; the result was 17 for and 17 against.

Franchelle C. Hart, spokeswoman for Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers East, said she couldn't remember a contract vote that ended in a tie.

Eugene L. Urban, administrator of the 126-bed nursing home, said he thought the union didn't do a good enough job of publicizing the vote to workers, especially since the deal wasn't made until late Monday afternoon.

Another factor in the turnout of less than one-third of the union was that the vote wasn't held at the nursing home. Voting lasted for four hours at the union office in the Bewley Building in downtown Lockport.

"The only thing I can think of was the word didn't spread fast enough," Hart said.

Urban, who recommended a yes vote in a letter to employees Tuesday, said he thinks Thursday's balloting "will be a better reflection of what the union wants."

Urban provided a copy of the terms to The Buffalo News, and Hart confirmed its contents.

Immediately upon ratification, union members will receive lump-sum payments. Full-time employees will receive $350, and lesser amounts will go those who work two, three or four days a week.

In May 2013, there will be a 1 percent pay raise for all union members, with an additional raise of up to six-tenths of one percent for those who have worked a full schedule in 15 out of 17 pay periods.

The management had insisted on tying some salary increases to a performance measure. Originally it sought to make raises conditional on the nursing home's rating by the state Health Department, the proportion of Medicaid clients and other factors the union insisted were outside of workers' control.

Another 1 percent raise for all workers would follow in November 2013.

A new Independent Health policy for the workers was billed as maintaining current benefits while reducing employee premiums and co-payments.

Jim Crampton, the union's lead negotiator, had called it "a pretty good deal."

Urban said, "We're very pleased with it. We just want to get together and get with the staff and do the business we're here to do."

The nursing home, in financial straits because it was ordered to return more than $1 million in Medicaid payments to the state, had cut full-time schedules from 40 hours to 37.5 hours per week last fall.

The reimbursement was ordered by state auditors who said that as far back as 1998, Odd Fellows was charging Medicaid for items the program doesn't cover. The nursing home is suing the state over the ruling.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com