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Odd Fellows workers move to strike

The union whose members rejected a contract with a Lockport nursing home last week announced Wednesday there will be a one-day strike May 7 unless a new deal is made.

But the sides also said there will be another bargaining session at 2 p.m. Friday.

Eugene L. Urban, administrator of the Odd Fellow and Rebekah Rehabilitation and Health Care Center, said he heard about the union's decision but that he didn't know what the union wanted to renegotiate.

Todd Hobler, vice president of Local 1199, Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers East, said the strike authorization vote came in a union meeting Tuesday and was triggered by Urban unilaterally implementing some of the provisions of the rejected contract.

He said Urban implemented a new health insurance plan for the employees and a paid time-off system but skipped the wage increases of at least 2 percent.

"This completely frustrated our membership at Odd Fellows," Hobler said. "If we don't get to the table and settle this, we're going to have a one-day strike."

He questioned the legality of Urban's move. "We figured a strike notice would be quicker than the labor board," Hobler said, referring to the National Labor Relations Board.

Urban said the union, which represents 110 workers at the 126-bed, not-for-profit nursing home, had approved the new health and time-off plans.

"They signed off on that at one of our meetings," Urban said.

They also signed off on pay raises, Hobler noted. The workers were supposed to receive lump-sum payments this year and two 1 percent raises in 2013, along with additional raises of six-tenths of 1 percent for those who met attendance targets.

"The employer's attorney believed they had a legal right to impose parts of the contract because we were at impasse, which is a legal term meaning we've gone as far as we can. We said we're not at impasse; we have more to discuss," Hobler said.

He admitted the implementations didn't do workers any harm, though they save Odd Fellows money.

The new health insurance plan has a much higher deductible than the old one, but it also contains a health savings account set up by the nursing home, meaning Odd Fellows is, in effect, paying the deductibles. But the insurer charges the employer less for the high-deductible plan.

Hobler said the paid time-off system, instead of fixed vacation allocations, is "certainly easier for them to account and administer."

Workers defeated the contract in a 31-28 vote last week, after a previous vote resulted in a 17-17 tie.