While unionized nursing home workers in Bayside continue to cry foul at Ozanam Hall management for what they called damaging staffing policies, a “mystified” local legislator found himself caught in the crossfire.
UFCW Local 342 — the union that represents more than 400 nursing home workers at Ozanam — rallied outside the home on May 18 to draw attention to the decline in resident care. They said Ozanam management has cut staff hours, no longer replaces staffers who call out sick and is pushing to reduce the full-time work week from 37.5 hours to 35.
“The home is neglecting their responsibilities to its residents and its staff,” said Cheryl Van Putten, a nursing assistant at Ozanam for 17 years. “It is not fair for the residents who look to the staff to help and support them each and every day. It is not fair to the staff because it breaks our hearts to see the residents overburdened with exhaustion.”
The union has been negotiating with Ozanam management since 2010 for a new contract. A strike vote had recently been approved by members working at the home, but the union did not disclose further information on the measure.
“The members are willing to do whatever is necessary to maintain proper care for the residents and get what they deserve,” said Kate Meckler, the union’s director of communications.
Ozanam did not return repeated calls for comment. However, administration at the non-profit facility and officials at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn — whose auspices the home runs under — reached out to Senator Tony Avella shortly before the rally.
Avella, who was initially invited to the event, said management and the diocese wanted to give him their side of the story. They told him they felt the facility was well-served and offered to give the senator a tour in the near future, he said.
However, the conversations triggered union representatives to pull Avella’s invite hours before the rally — a move that puzzled the senator.
“I don’t know what to make of it,” Avella said. “I’ve never had a situation like this in all my years of service. If anything, [conversations between management and the diocese] give me a better opportunity to help. Even when I walk the picket line, I always say the best thing is for the two sides to sit and work together.”
Meckler said union reps chose to disinvite Avella because of his “changed positions” in signing a letter to Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio.
“This press conference was not about the two sides needing to bargain. It was about how this will affect the residents. The whole point was to have a public display of support by signing this letter to the bishop, which is why I invited the senator in the first place,” Meckler said.
Avella said he never stated whether or not he was going to sign the letter and defended allegations made against him by the union of being dissuaded from supporting the workers.
“I don’t ever back off anything if I think it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “Union members should have a fair contract and work under fair working conditions and the clients have to be properly served.”