Strike by workers at 14 nursing facilities in Pennsylvania

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Friday marked the start of a strike by workers at 14 nursing facilities in Pennsylvania, after marathon talks over contracts failed to produce an agreement.

In a disagreement over wages, benefits and staffing levels, more than 700 unionized employees quit their jobs. Images and videos on social media showed picket lines outside several residences, with employees holding banners and wearing purple SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania t-shirts.

Matthew Yarnell, President of SEIU, said: “Our goal has always been – and is – to secure a fair contract that invests in all of this workforce and effectively addresses the staffing shortage.”

He accused care home owners of ‘not setting pay scales comparable to what we have achieved with other providers’.

Recently, state lawmakers and the administration of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf increased annual Medicaid payments to nursing facilities by more than $300 million and provided an additional $130 million in federal coronavirus funding to help nursing homes to employ and retain staff. Spotlight PA reports that striking employees are at odds with two for-profit retirement home owners, Comprehensive Healthcare and Priority Healthcare, over how that money will be used. The union pointed out that 15 full facilities were accused of wage fraud, while others were sanctioned for quality issues.

Meetings began Thursday morning and ended early Friday morning without an agreement, with no more negotiations scheduled. A dozen counties in the state are affected by the strike. In the absence of a new contract, workers at four other western Pennsylvania nursing facilities will join the strike on September 9.

The COVID-19 outbreak has exacerbated nursing facilities’ longstanding problem with excessive turnover. Delays in Medicaid reimbursement have forced the closure or downsizing of a number of facilities, according to professional associations.

Pennsylvania has approximately 700 nursing facilities with a valid license.

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