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Attendance link to pay stalls Odd Fellow & Rebekah talks

Contract talks at Odd Fellow and Rebekah Rehabilitation and Health Care Center have stalled over management's proposal to tie pay raises to employee attendance.

Jim Crampton, chief negotiator for Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers East, has called a membership meeting for Thursday for the more than 100 nurses, aides and housekeeping, laundry and dietary workers who are seeking a new contract.

Eugene L. Urban, administrator of the 126-bed nursing home, said that another bargaining session is set for April 16.

"We're going to do an analysis and write a letter to employees explaining how this would affect them," Urban said Friday.

He said the sides are talking about a two-year contract. Urban said the nursing home's pay proposal is a lump sum in the first year and a 2.2 percent increase in the second year -- but only for employees who show up for work often enough.

Urban said the full raise would go to workers "if they work their full schedule 15 out of 17 weeks." Otherwise, the pay increase would be limited to 1 percent.

Crampton said the union has made major concessions on health care, time off and the number of hours in a full-time schedule. He called the pay proposal "absurdly insulting for folks who have been good employees for so damn long. I've got one person on the committee who I don't think has called in sick in 20 years."

He said that an unexpected illness, for example, could cost a good worker a full raise.

"We know that 90 percent of [employees] will benefit from it," Urban said. "It's the 10 percent we're trying to get to come to work. You have good quality of care when everyone shows up and you don't have to scramble for overtime or part-timers."

After a nine-hour meeting Friday, Crampton and Urban agreed that the nursing home is no longer trying to tie pay raises to performance standards, some of which the union contended were outside of workers' control.

Management's earlier proposal was for a 1 percent raise if the facility received at least a three-star rating from the state Health Department; another 1 percent if its Medicaid case index improved; and yet another 1 percent if the number of Medicaid clients and total patient load reached fixed targets.

"They came off that three-star thing, and now they're on attendance," Crampton said.

"This is a new concept for them, and unions don't like new concepts. They want guarantees," Urban said. "We want to make sure the ones that come in are benefited and the ones who don't come in are not benefited."

Crampton said the union first asked for a total raise of 5.5 percent over the life of the contract, and now is at 2 percent plus a bonus over 16 months.

"The small amount of money between us, we should have been able to bridge. We've already found ways to pay for the raise," Crampton said, pointing to a new health insurance plan that he said would save the nursing home $115,000 in premiums.

"It's more like $55,000 or $60,000," Urban said. "The employees would also be saving on premiums."

Crampton said the union agreed to Urban's move a few months ago to cut full-timers from 40 hours a week to 37.5 hours. He also said union bargainers have agreed to drop a no-layoff clause from the contract.

"I'm not sure that was fully agreed to," Urban said. "I think it's still up in the air."