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Nursing home workers protest lack of contract, out-of-town owners

Unionized nursing home workers at Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Nursing Center at Williamsville conducted an informational picket line outside the facility Wednesday afternoon to protest lack of a contract since August.

They held signs stating, "Don't Be A Grinch" and "Stand Up For Quality Care." They also chanted demands like, "Hey hey, ho ho, greedy bosses got to go!" according to union organizers who  blamed the nursing home's out-of-town owners for putting profits ahead of quality care and fair wages to workers.

“We can’t allow this for-profit model and the out-of-town, absentee landlords to continue to disregard quality of care for profits,” said Peter DeJesus Jr., an administrative organizer for 1199 Service Employees International Union.

The union represents about 100 licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants and other workers at the 142-bed Reist Street facility.

Formerly known as St. Francis Home of Williamsville, the nursing home was sold by Catholic Health in 2015 to out-of-region investors for $1.8 million.

“Most of the workers back then took wage and benefit cuts to stay with Comprehensive. We have nothing to retire on and our wages are lower than other facilities. Enough already. We have to take a stand for our families and our residents,” said Ivan Tidwell, an LPN who was among the approximately 75 workers protesting.

Many employees, Tidwell explained, rely on public transportation to get to the facility and, as a result, the costs add up, making it even more of a challenge for them to pay their bills.

CNA Shannan Laing, who has worked at the facility 18 years and was among the picketers, said employees often work outside of their job descriptions for the sake of residents.

"We go out of our way to take care of our residents and ensure that the facility is running smoothly," Laing said. "We deserve better."

When contacted for a comment on the picketing, John Gagnon, the nursing home's administrator, said “negotiations and communications are ongoing.”

A new bargaining session is set for Jan. 7, according to DeJesus, who added that the company’s offer of a 2 percent raise for senior workers and its refusal to contribute to the union pension fund triggered the picketing.

The nursing home has an overall one-star rating, “much below average,” the lowest ranking in the federal government’s five-star rating system. When the home was sold, it had an overall five-star rating, “much above average.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the nursing home is owned by Comprehensive at Williamsville LLC. Individuals listed by the government as having ownership interest in the company are Joshua Farkovits, David Gast, Sam Halper and Ephram Lahasky.

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