This story was updated at 7:37 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 15 to include a Centers Health Care spokesperson’s response and at 1:39 p.m. to include Bethlehem Police Commander Adam Hornick’s quotes. The original version was published online at 11:55 a.m.
BETHLEHEM — Employees at a Delmar nursing home have voted to go on a three-day strike starting on Jan. 24 due to fears of losing their health benefits and even their jobs soon.
The strike was first announced on Monday, Jan. 13 in order to give management at the Good Samaritan Nursing Home and Kenwood Manor ample notice time to figure out how to prepare for it as well as care for the residents inside.
According to 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the employees’ union, the Lutheran Care Network, which operates the facilities, have not been paying into the employees’ Health Benefit Fund since October. The union also said the facilities lack enough staff and supplies to serve the residents and LCN filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December. The Bronx-based Centers Health Care has expressed interest in purchasing and managing the facilities but do not want to maintain the employees’ health benefits.
“It’s a really scary thing for a lot of people and some employees have said it’s too risky to lose their health benefits,” said Greg Speller, the union’s executive vice president. “Some have already left while others, who have been here for many years, are seeking other jobs where they can have benefits. But we’re still optimistic and the new buyer has to step forward and do what’s right.”
Spotlight News has reached out to LCN but did not receive any comment yet at the time of this publication.
A Centers Health Care spokesperson wrote in an email to Spotlight News that it could not comment on the story while in negotiation.
These issues have spurred Good Samaritan employees to worry about not only their futures and the residents’, but also their own families and well-being.
John Makoyi, who has been a Good Samaritan employee and caregiver for more than 18 years, said he has stayed this long due to having health benefits which gave him a peace of mind. “Now I’m very worried about our benefits and they want to take them away,” he said. “This has pushed all of us to strike. We don’t want to strike but it may be our last option.”
Maureen Tomlinson, the union’s Capital Region vice president, said that when union workers originally voted on Saturday, Jan. 11 in a meeting room within the nursing home to have the upcoming three-day strike, LCN management called the police on them, alleging they were disturbing the facilities operations and they must leave the premises.
Tomlinson added that as union workers and employees entered the meeting room, LCN management was taking photos of them and she perceived this as intimidation. As a result, she said, “We then chose to file an unfair labor practice charge [with the National Labor Relations Board] because it’s a violation of labor rights.”
Bethlehem Police Commander Adam Hornick confirmed that officers responded to the scene at 12:50 p.m. that day. He wrote in an email to Spotlight News that after discussing with both union workers and LCN management, “all sides agreed to work the issue out as a civil matter and through the arbitrator, and the representatives agreed to leave without issue.”
In a follow-up interview, Hornick said that Bethlehem police will only be present for the upcoming three-day strike “if required like if an incident escalates. It is free speech protected under the First Amendment so we don’t want to do anything to impede that.”
Makoyi also voiced frustration at how LCN management and the facilities’ new prospective buyer have yet to give him and his fellow employees ongoing updates regarding the facilities’ transfer of ownership, what will happen after that and whether their health benefits will be cut.
He said, “Most of us have families to care for back home and every morning, we go to work but don’t know if something will happen or we get sick. We still also want to be there for the residents but we must care for ourselves too.”
Tomlinson concluded, “The nursing home has residents who were born, raised and have served their community here as workers. This is their home and this issue will have a huge impact on the community. It’s sad.”