Union pledges to outlast Cedar Haven owner in four-week-old strike

Written by Daniel Walmer/The Lebanon Daily News | Nov 17, 2017 5:51 PM

Union president Penny Kleinfelter speaks to strikers and supporters from the back of a truck Friday afternoon during the Cedar Haven Nursing home rally held to mark the four week anniversary of the walk out. (Photo: Michael K. Dakota, Lebanon Daily News)

(Lebanon) -- The local union president for striking Cedar Haven employees thanked her fellow nurses at a rally Friday - but she also issued a dire warning to any who might be thinking of crossing the four-week-old picket line.

"If we lose this fight, like people have said, where on earth are people going to bring their loved ones for quality care?" Penny Kleinfelter asked. "If we would, somehow, lose this fight, I would hold everyone who crossed that picket line responsible for helping to ruin Cedar Haven's future."

Union officials said they haven't received any new offers from nursing home owner Chas Blalack of Stone Barn Holdings. In fact, Kleinfelter said Blalack's alleged unwillingness to negotiate may now not only be about the contract - which reduces paid time off and substantially increases employee costs for health insurance - but also about breaking the will of the union.

Blalack did not respond to a phone call and email requesting comment for this story.

The lengthy standoff has caught the attention of regional and international union leaders for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Officials announced that the international union is donating $10,000 to support strike operations, while AFSCME Council 13 is donating another $10,000.

The strike began Oct. 20 after union leaders said Cedar Haven ownership implemented the new contract even though it had been voted down by the employees represented by AFSCME Local 2732.

Blalack previously told the Lebanon Daily News that he was "committed to making sure any possible strike would not adversely impact our residents" at the former county-owned nursing home. He hired nurses from U.S. Nursing Corporation to continue to provide that care during the strike.

U.S. Nursing Corporation's website, which previously said it was recruiting nurses to handle a Pennsylvania strike until Nov. 5, now describes the assignment as an "ongoing/indefinite strike." All positions have been filled and U.S. Nursing Corporation is no longer actively recruiting, the website said.

But the level of nursing care isn't satisfying resident Kat Steffy, who attended Friday's rally in support of the nurses. Steffy said the staff nurses serve residents from the heart, but the temporary nurses don't care about them.

"You can tell that because there are no smiles, no hugs," she said.

Friday's rally at the 5th Avenue entrance to Cedar Haven was attended by more than 100 people, including national and regional union leaders and people from other local unions. Woodwind players from the American Federation of Musicians played tunes to support the rally.

"We're here to fight for you, and we're going to fight all the way to the end," David Gash, president of the Harrisburg Region Central Labor Council for the AFL-CIO, told the Cedar Haven employees. "You have to stay out one day longer (than the ownership)."

"I know how difficult this is for all of you. I also cannot afford to strike," she said. "But the bottom line is, I can't afford not to strike."

Under the proposed contract, employees would receive a maximum of 15 days paid time off and as little as five days paid time off depending on length of employment. One nurse said the health insurance premium for her and her husband would be $900 per month with a $5,000 deductible.

Cedar Haven was historically Lebanon County's county-owned nursing home but was sold in 2014 over the objection of commissioner Jo Ellen Litz. 

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

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