Union employees at Rochester nursing home picket for better working conditions

May 29, 2019

Staff at the New Roc nursing home on Portland Avenue said they have not had contracts for two years, and conditions in the facility have declined as its owners look for a buyer.

“It defeats the point to work and not be working towards your future. We have no 401(k),” said Juanita Burgess, a licensed practical nurse at New Roc. “You work at a job for 10 years and what have you invested in those 10 years? It defeats the point when it’s nothing.”

Union employees at the New Roc Nursing and Rehabilitation Center picket outside the nursing home on Portland Avenue in Rochester Wednesday.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News

Burgess is also on the union’s bargaining committee that’s negotiating a contract with the home’s owners. She and some of her colleagues picketed outside the nursing home Wednesday afternoon, calling on their employer to deliver a favorable contract and solidify some of the facility’s protocols.

New Roc is on a federal “special focus” list maintained by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The list tracks nursing homes with a history of “serious quality issues.”

An inspection last year found dozens of deficiencies in the nursing home, including “mouse droppings on food items” and a lack of adequate infection control measures.

Christine Schaller, the nursing home’s administrator, said most of the inspection’s findings did not put patients in any immediate risk of harm. She said the home has made significant improvements since last June when the inspection was completed.

“The nursing care issues last year were of relatively minor concern, and we believe this year’s survey is going well,” Schaller said.

A spokesperson for the owners of the New Roc nursing home says conditions are improving, and they expect union representatives to be pleased with their next contract offer.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News

But Schaller also said she sympathizes with the picketers when it comes to their pay. “I think they have a valid point that their contract has expired two years ago and needs to get resolved and signed, and we need to move forward,” she said.

Burgess said Schaller and the administration are not to blame for the working conditions. Her concerns lie with the facility’s ownership.

“Every staff member from administration on down is here, showing up to work, doing what they can,” Burgess said. “It’s the owners, who own the building, who makes the money from the building running, who is not taking that money and putting it back into the facility so it can run properly.”

Mike Balboni, a spokesperson for New Roc’s owners, said a recent inspection found some promising changes at the home, and he’s confident the facility’s next contract proposal will gain the workers’ approval.

Burgess was unconvinced. “If they were [negotiating] in good faith, it would have been done by now. It wouldn’t take two years to come to an agreement,” she said.