Acres march: Union expresses concern about contract

Four employees and a union representative met with Auglaize County commissioners John Bergman and Don Regula on Thursday afternoon about their concerns with contract negotiations, which began in early 2012. Two meetings were held in May with a fact finding meeting in July.

The 64 employees belonging to the bargaining unit have continued to work under terms of their previous contract, which expired June 30, Auglaize Acres Administrator Connie Pierce said earlier this year. The previous three-year contract was signed in 2009. The contract being negotiated is for another three years.

The Acres’ bargaining unit represents all but three of the county nursing home’s licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and its ancillary staff, including those employed as cooks, dietitians, housekeepers, custodians, and in laundry and housekeeping.

Thirty-eight staff members, including management, are not part of the bargaining unit.

Union representatives said a reduction in hours to 36 hours from 40 hours is placing the quality of care and services provided to residents by the staff at risk. With the loss in hours, the staff also will not be able to provide for their own families because of a loss in pay.

“As hard-working employees of Auglaize Acres, our Union members wake up every day with one thing on their mind – how can they provide the best care to our residents,” SEIU District 1199 Administrative Organizer and Chief Negotiator Brenda Millhouse said. “Today (Thursday)  a group of workers took that message directly to the commissioners, asking that they bargain in good faith in the best interest of those our members serve.”

Representatives of SEIU District 1199 members employed at Auglaize Acres said they demonstrated their understanding of the economic situation of the nursing home through their willingness to agree to a pay freeze for the last four years. Additionally, Auglaize Acres staff has already agreed to forgo any increase in wages for the next two years as well.

“We are concerned about our ability to care for our residents and retain the best caregivers for those that need our services in this community,” Auglaize Acres state-tested nursing assistant Susan Elliot said. “We understand tough times require shared sacrifice, we are just asking that we be able to have the time we need to provide quality care and services to our residents and maintain our work hours so we can provide for our families.”j

On Thursday, four members and a union representative met with the commissioners at 4 p.m. to discuss their concerns.

Union representatives have filed charges with the State Employees Relations Board (SERB) demanding that management discontinue bargaining in bad faith and meet with union members for contract negotiations.

As to accusations that the commissioners are not bargaining in good faith, Bergman said it’s not true.

“We have bargained in good faith all along,” Bergman said.

Clemans & Nelson attorney Pat Hire, who also handles labor relations for the city of Wapakoneta and St. Marys, is the chief negotiator for the commissioners. He was unavailable for comment prior to press time.

Bergman said the issue employees have centers on a reduction in hours for which they will be paid. He explained it does not change their full-time employment status and they are still eligible for benefits. He added that reducing hours was a management decision.

Union and county negotiators first met in late April or early May. They have met a couple of times since and one more meeting is scheduled.

“We’re going through the process we have to follow,” Bergman said. “There are procedures we must follow. We can’t make it up as we go along.”

Bergman said the commissioners continue to stand behind the fact that the Auglaize Acres must be self-sufficient in funding.

“The Auglaize Acres has to stand on it’s own,” Bergman said.

He said that is not something current commissioners decided, but a stipulation that has been in place for 25 to 30 years.

In the end, Bergman said he hopes an agreement can be reached.

“I hope we get this resolved,” Bergman said. “It’s always been known that the Acres provides good service and care and we want that to continue.”

Managing Editor William Laney contributed to this story.