SEIU strikers get nursing home's attention

It was "union territory" outside Emmanuel Convalescent Hospital in Millbrae, CA on Friday. In a 24-hour strike, caregivers waved their signs and acted in solidarity demanding that the owners — Amparo and Carlos Ragudo of A&C Health Care Services — reinstate 100 percent of their health care and benefits.

Approximately 87 employees at the hospital are represented by SEIU (Service Employees International Union) United Healthcare Workers-West. Caregivers at the Mateo Avenue facility have been without benefits since the Ragudos took over the nursing home.

During that time, the union said, eight union activists were fired without just cause. Garrett Palines of San Francisco said he is one of them. The 36-year-old said he was fired in October and still doesn't know why.

"They said there were complaints," said Palines, who had been on the picket line since 6 a.m. "But when I asked for those complaints, they didn't give me anything. I didn't sign my termination papers."

Palines is a certified nursing assistant. He worked at Emmanuel for three years. A diabetic, he said he can't afford his medications. He is also homeless.

"My house foreclosed, and I live in my van," he said. "I'm looking for any kind of job, but I need to come back to this job. I loved taking care of my patients."

The Ragudos have denied the allegations and claim the workers were fired with just cause.

During the strike, the Ragudos were inside helping caregivers from other nursing homes take care of 120 residents.

Amparo Ragudo said Friday that they agreed to meet with the union Wednesday.

"We are open for communication," she said. "There are things we need to talk about, (such as) the allegations. We have to finish that first."

In August, the Ragudos bought the 140-bed nursing home, including four other convalescent homes and assisted-living facilities, from the now-bankrupt Pleasant Care Corporation.

Ragudo said this week that the employees who were fired were let go because of poor performance.

One was found sleeping on the job; another was let go after the resident and family members leveled multiple allegations of elder abuse; and a third had a history of violating a resident's rights, Ragudo said.

Charges of unfair labor practices have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, which will decide if the accusations have merit.

The union is upset that the Ragudos reduced caregivers' health, retirement and paid-time-off benefits. Now, employees must pay 50 percent of monthly health insurance premiums.

Also, Ragudo said that the Pleasant Care Corporation never signed the workers' contract, making any policies under the old ownership void, since the facility was bought in bankruptcy court.

San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill attended the union's rally. He said he wants the Ragudos to do the right thing.

"The workers are professional and know how to care for patients in this home," Hill said. "These residents are a vulnerable population in our community. To terminate eight employees is outrageous. The union needs to be recognized."

Burlingame resident Pat Giorni came in support as well. Her mother has been at Emmanuel for three years.

"I think that the care given by the workers is extraordinarily good," Giorni said. "They work long hours."

The union is prepared to strike again, said John Vellardita, director of Emmanuel's nursing home division.

"We will fight for what is ours," he said. "Not just the contract, but for the changes we need to make."


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