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Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Caregivers Begin Strike


Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Caregivers Begin Strike

Caregivers at a Bronx nursing home hit the picket line yesterday.

Key among the issues raised by the health care workers - no health care.

Workers at Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Center at 3400 Cannon Place in the west Bronx have been working without a contract for several years, according to their union, the Service Employees International Union 1199.But what pushed the 220 workers to walk out at 6 a.m. was their recent loss of health benefits.

Late last year, just before the holidays, the Kingsbridge nursing home unilaterally ended employee health benefits, suddenly stripping the workers and their children of their health insurance.

The nursing home is $2.5 million in arrears to the workers’ health benefit fund, and as a result, workers and their families lost their health care coverage completely last November.

The union says the facility’s owner, Helen Sieger, has refused to negotiate in good faith to resolve the dispute, thus forcing the strike.

Management of the Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation Center did not return calls.

The 350-bed nursing home is run as a for-profit facility, and has been ranked among the city’s most profitable nursing homes.

Health Department figures show that in 1999, Kingsbridge made more than $3 million in profits - with Sieger pocketing $700,000 of that in salary.

The following year, the Daily News toured the facility in the middle of the night and found just two or three nurses’ aides watching over as many as 40 patients.

Overstretched staffing was cited as a factor in the suicide of a patient who leapt from his seventh-floor window in 2002.

Police said the man had a history of depression, but officials at Kingsbridge said he was not on a suicide watch.

At the time, nurses’ aides complained of being so understaffed they didn’t have time to properly care for patients.

The last time the workers there had a contract was 2000, the year The News investigation cited aides’ complaints that due to short-staffing some patients lost weight because staffers didn’t have adequate time to monitor their food intake.

The probe also revealed patients were reportedly left in soiled diapers for long periods because there were not enough staff members available to change them.


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  1. TalkBXAdmin
    Striking workers at Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation and Care Center are bringing high-powered allies to their cause.

    A small nursing home in the Bronx is attracting an outsized amount of attention.

    A U.S. senator and two mayoral hopefuls have hit the picket lines and a presidential candidate has added his voice to the growing chorus demanding Kingsbridge Heights Rehabilitation and Care Center owner Helen Sieger restore health benefits to the home's 220 workers. The employees at the northwest Bronx facility, who are members of 1199SEIU, walked off their jobs Feb. 20 after Ms. Sieger stopped paying into their benefit fund.

    The union is pulling out all the stops to win a battle it says is critical to maintaining standards for 40,000 workers at 240 nursing homes in the New York area. The Kingsbridge workers have been without a contract since 2002.

    “If we cave in to her, how do we justify it to all of the other employers who have lived up to the standards and continued to pay?”
    asks 1199 President George Gresham.
    “How do they remain competitive?
    The work stoppage has already cost the union nearly $1 million, much of which was spent on strike pay for the workers. Mr. Gresham, a former hospital housekeeper, says the strike has been the toughest battle he has faced since taking over for Dennis Rivera as president of the 1199 last June.

    The politically powerful union is lining up its allies in an attempt to pressure Ms. Sieger to pay the $2.7 million she owes the benefit fund and sign a union contract. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, U.S. Rep Anthony Weiner, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn spoke at a rally earlier this month at the nursing home and Sen. Barack Obama phoned in to the picket line to tell the workers they would “have a friend in the White House” after November’s election.

    Mr. Gresham sent a letter asking Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate two charities Ms. Sieger runs, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in state grants the union contends she misappropriated. A spokesman says the attorney general’s office has received and reviewed the letter, but would not comment further. The entire Bronx delegation to the state Legislature wrote to state Health Commissioner Richard Daines, asking him to intervene.

    Joel Cohen, who was Ms. Sieger’s attorney until they mutually parted ways after the first few weeks of the strike, says the union’s tactics may backfire.

    “The way they play hardball with other people isn’t going to work with her,”
    he says.
    “They’re doing everything they can to put pressure on her, but anyone who knows her knows that kind of stuff just gets her back up.”
    Ms. Sieger did not return a call seeking comment. She is running the 400-bed home with replacement workers from an employment agency.

    The impasse has left workers like Certified Nurses Aide Cynthia Burrell scrambling to make do. For the first months of the strike, the union provided each worker with $400 a week in strike pay. More recently, they’ve been able to collect unemployment. But without benefits, it’s been hard for them to get by. Ms. Burrell, who suffers from diabetes, has skipped her regular doctor appointments, and paid out of pocket for blood pressure medication. The 65-year-old postponed her annual mammogram.

    “You go to the doctor, the first thing they ask is ‘what kind of benefits do you have’”?
    she says.
    “We have none at all.”
    The workers say they’d rather be taking care of their patients but believe a principle is at stake.

    “We’re setting examples for other nursing homes,”
    says CNA Paulette Cameron.
    “That is why we can’t give up.”