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Strike wraps up 3rd day, no negotiations set

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Updated: December 23, 2013 2:40PM



JOLIET — Two women whose loved ones are residents at Sunny Hill Nursing Home expressed support for striking union workers Wednesday but also concern that the strike had entered its third day.

They want Will County officials to come to an agreement with about 1,000 members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1028 so the residents at the county-owned nursing home are cared for by people who know them and care about them, instead of temporary workers from outside agencies.

Jo Ann Caretto said her mom, Charlotte Poulos, 93, now is being cared for by strangers.

“My main concern is the outside agency workers don’t know the residents like regular nurses and CNAs,” Caretto said as she stood with picketing union workers outside the nursing home at 421 Doris Ave. “Everybody is confused in there because it’s not the same CNAs and nurses they’re used to seeing all the time.”

Martina Salinas, whose husband, Manuel, is receiving care at the nursing home, said that now when she arrives in the morning her husband isn’t dressed and he’s not up and sitting in a chairs, which he had been when Local 1028 members were caring for him.

“I’m concerned, because those people don’t know what they’re doing,” she said of the substitute nurses replacing the union nurses who are on strike. “And they don’t connect his feeding tube when they’re supposed to.”

She said she now has to push people to help with her husband, who is paralyzed and noncommunicative.

“He can’t stay in the bed all day,” she said. “He needs to go in the chair. I’m not happy.”

Bruce Tidwell, the county’s human resources director, said he has not heard any complaints about care at the nursing home.

“I think it’s going OK,” he said.

Tidwell said the nursing home is fully staffed and “I have not heard any negatives from Sunny Hill today. And I have asked all department heads to report any problems.”

Tidwell said nursing home Administrator Karen Isberg Sorbero told him, “Residents were pleased with breakfast and were served with a smile.”

Sorbero said many of the agency nurses have worked at the nursing home in the past “and are very, very familiar with our residents.” The Illinois Department of Public Health has had a monitor at the nursing home every day since the strike started to make sure the facility is up to standards, she added.

Sorbero said she misses her regular workers and wishes they were back, but until the strike is over, the nursing home will do the best it can.

“We are asking our residents and our family members to be patient,” she said. “These are their loved ones and I don’t blame them, I would have concerns, too.”

Sunny Hill workers Susan Kunert, an LPN for 18 years, Jackie Houston, a unit secretary for 10 years, and Emma Catchings, a CNA for 24 years, said they want to be back at work, but they also want a fair contract.

“We are Will County employees, but we are patient advocates,” Kunert said, explaining why she was speaking out on Wednesday. “These people need to be taken care of.”

Houston said it’s hard to be on strike.

“We love the residents, even though management is telling people we don’t care about the residents,” she said. “We show them the love that they need each day.”

Catchings said even though she wants a fair contract, she worries about the residents.

“They don’t know those strangers’ faces,” she said of the temporary workers.

Nursing home workers make a median salary of $33,000, which isn’t enough to absorb insurance costs that are going up “dramatically,” said Dave Bloede, a union organizer for AFSCME Council 31, which includes Local 1028.

“We could all be back at work right now, but the county is the one that forced this to happen,” he said. “They’ve been stubborn and are unwilling to negotiate.”

Will County and Local 1028 bargained for 15 months without a settlement, which led to the strike that began Monday and affects a wide variety of county government offices.

The two top issues are cost-of-living raises and health insurance costs. The county is offering 4.5 percent COLA raises phased in over three years on top of 2.5 percent “step” increases employees get as they move up the pay scale each year.

In exchange for the raises, the county wants the way employees pay for health insurance to change. Instead of paying a flat 1 percent to 2 percent of their salary, which is the current system, workers would pay up to 10 percent of premium costs, doubling insurance payments for many.

The union said the lack of cost-of-living raises four years ago combined with the insurance payment jump would almost wipe out the raises being offered now for some workers.

County officials say there is no more money in the budget to offer workers more, and bigger raises could trigger layoffs.

No negotiations were scheduled as of Wednesday.



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