Members of the union representing workers at two Buffalo nursing homes on Thursday protested what they said is the refusal of the facilities' owner to provide them a Covid-19 hazard pay boost.
A 25-car caravan drove from 1199SEIU union headquarters to the Buffalo Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, on Delaware Avenue, and the Ellicott Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing, on 7th Street.
The nursing homes are owned by Centers Health Care, a chain of about 50 skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers for seniors in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island whose CEO is Kenneth Rozenberg.
Centers has "flatly refused to pay premium pay" to workers at the two Buffalo nursing homes, said Todd Hobler, a vice president with 1199SEIU.
Centers spokesman Jeff Jacomowitz declined to comment on the protest or the hazard pay issue.
Nursing homes have been centers of the new coronavirus outbreak. They often struggled to maintain staffing levels even before the pandemic and they serve a vulnerable population.
Workers and their union representatives have argued that they deserve hazard pay given the risks they are taking on while carrying out their jobs during the pandemic.
Through Wednesday, the Buffalo Center has seen 11 residents die from Covid-19 and the Ellicott Center has seen four residents die from the virus, according to the state Health Department.
A number of nonprofit nursing homes in the area have agreed to provide an extra $5 or $10 extra per hour to workers on at least a temporary basis.
Centers Health Care won't do this, Hobler said, and the protest was meant to bring public attention to this refusal. Cars in the caravan honked and displayed signs to show support for the homes' workers, who waved back from the windows.
1199SEIU represents between 100 and 120 workers at each of the two Centers nursing homes in Buffalo – such as licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, dietary aides and housekeepers.
And 20 union workers – 12 at the Buffalo Center and eight at the Ellicott Center – have tested positive for Covid-19 as of late last week, according to 1199SEIU.
"Our members really deserve recognition for the sacrifices they're making to take care of the residents at both places," Hobler said.
Jacomowitz confirmed the union's figures but said any infected worker was sent home with pay for 14 days. None required hospitalization and some have returned to work after the two-week quarantine and a negative test for the virus, he said.
The federal government assigns both facilities a rating of 1 star out of 5 stars, or much below average, and the union said workers at the centers earn an average of less than $15 per hour.
"When things started to get bad and our co-workers were getting sick, we asked the owners for hazard pay,” Annette Rogers, who has worked as a unit clerk at the Buffalo Center for 20 years, said in a statement from the union. “They told us to, 'Just do your job, that’s what you signed up for.' ”