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No end in sight as rally marks one week of Cedar Haven strike

Written by Daniel Walmer/The Lebanon Daily News | Oct 27, 2017 5:55 PM


Penny Kleinfelter, president of the ASFCME Local 2732, cheers Cedar Haven Nursing Home employees of AFSCME Local 2732 held a rally along with members of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO other unions outside of Cedar Haven on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017. The employees went on strike last week, on Oct. 20, 2017.  (Photo: Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News)

(Lebanon) -- Employees from other local unions joined Cedar Haven employees Friday for a rally to mark one week since the beginning of a nurses strike that has no sign of ending soon.

Steve Mullen, council director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said there has been not yet been any movement by Cedar Haven ownership that would lead to a conclusion of the strike.

"We reached out to them and asked them if they wanted to sit down and talk with us, and they said only if we're willing to take (the contract) they've already given us," Mullen said.

Hundreds of protesters lined both sides of 5th Avenue at noon Friday, chanting "because we care," and encouraging cars to honk their horns in solidarity.

The rally featured heavy hitters like Elissa McBride, international secretary-treasurer of AFSCME, and Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO.

However, it was a daughter of a Cedar Haven resident who gave the most emotional story.

"Deciding to move my dad to Cedar Haven was one of the hardest things we've ever done," said Elizabeth Wentling.

She said she used to worry that her dad would be surrounded by strangers, confused and afraid - but she soon learned the nurses at Cedar Haven weren't strangers. They don't just clean and feed him, but also make sure he smiles and make him laugh, she said.

"They work harder than anyone I know at a job that's both physically and emotionally exhausting," Wentling said. "If the people who care for my dad get sick but don't have enough sick days and have to work anyway, they are not safe, and my dad is not safe. If the people who care for my dad are injured, but can't go to the doctor because they can't afford health care, they're not safe and my dad is not safe."

Resident Cat Steffy, who has been spending much of her time supporting the strikers since last Friday, said she is on their side because "what you do comes from the heart."

"We really, really miss you," she added.

Bloomingdale said the new contract Cedar Haven ownership implemented - which increases health care costs and decreases paid time off for employees - demonstrates broader problems with privatization in health care.

"You can't put profits above patients. The minute you do that, patient care suffers," he said, while encouraging union members to continue the strike. "This is the way you beat them. You show them they have power. You show them solidarity."

But not everyone was thrilled with the rally, which greatly increased the number of protesters by bringing in local chocolate workers, steel workers and other unionized employees. They were filling the sidewalks on both sides of 5th Avenue and standing on the edges of private yards.

Richard Brown, who lives on 5th Avenue across the street from Cedar Haven, said the constant car honking promoted by union members is difficult on him and his wife, who has dementia.

"You're sitting there, reading, watching TV, or something, and there's the horn," he said. "How many people know what they're honking for?"

He said he isn't totally opposed to the employees, although they can't expect to receive the benefits they would have had when Cedar Haven was owned by the county. But he isn't sure the rally and horn-honking is effective in getting them a better contract.

Chas Blalack, a principal owner of Stone Barn Holdings, which owns Cedar Haven, did not respond to a request for comment for this story. 

Facts about the Cedar Haven strike

  • Cedar Haven was formerly Lebanon County's county-owned nursing home, but it was sold in 2014 over the objections of commissioner Jo Ellen Litz.
  • AFSCME members began their strike at noon, Oct. 20, after Stone Barn Holdings implemented a new contract even though it wasn't approved by employees.
  • The new contract increases health care costs for employees. One employee said she would be paying a premium of $900 per month and a $5,000 deductible for insurance for herself and her husband.
  • It also reduces paid time off. Employees would receive a maximum of 15 days off, but those with fewer years of employment would receive substantially fewer days. Employees also would not be paid for holidays unless they work them.
  • Cedar Haven residents are currently receiving care from nurses provided by U.S. Nursing Corporation, which specializes in providing nurses during labor disputes.
  • A notice on U.S. Nursing Corporation's website related to the Cedar Haven strike says all positions are filled, and the nurses are committed to working from Oct. 18 to Nov. 5. 
  • The notice for the Cedar Haven strike did not specify compensation, but three other recruiting efforts on their website promise a pay rate of $65-70 per hour.

 

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Lebanon Daily News. 

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