9/4/08

SEIU to strike v. hospital for one day

Related story: "The 28 labor-states"

Typical labor-state collective bargaining tactic

Employees of the Sunnyside Convalescent Hospital plan to stage a one-day strike Sept. 15 to protest stalled contract negotiations and missed paychecks, a union representative said Wednesday. Workers have been without a contract since October 2007 and say they have not been paid since Aug. 6.

Officials of Sunnyside Convalescent, in southeast Fresno, agree that the hospital's workers have not been paid but blame the state's budget stalemate, now entering its 66th day, for causing the the facility's funding shortfall.

"This is a very egregious situation," said Kevin Hall, regional political organizer for the Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers-West.

The union filed an unfair labor practices complaint Tuesday alleging the owners of the convalescent hospital are engaging in delays. Workers are asking for an increase in pay and benefits.

Of the hospital's 85 employees, 52 are represented by the union.

Michael Fellen, one of the hospital's owners, said he blames the union for the delays, saying it has changed contract negotiators several times.

"Every time we go in, the new [negotiator] doesn't know what the last one did," he said.

Fellen said nearly all of his funding comes from the state's Medi-Cal program.

"Right now, the state owes us over half a million dollars," Fellen said. "And if I had that money, there would be no problems."

Department of Health Care Services spokesman Norman Williams said Medi-Cal payments to providers like Sunnyside have dried up without an approved state budget.

"Without it, we are not authorized to make payments and so that can affect their bottom line," Williams said.

Fellen, who said he has used personal funds to help keep the hospital afloat, was optimistic he could secure a line of credit to help pay the workers. He also said that the hospital's 82 residents are not in jeopardy.

"We are fully staffed and fully supplied," Fellen said. "We are just a little disgruntled."

Certified nursing assistant Brenda Nutt said that while she understands the state's Medi-Cal funding has been delayed, working without a paycheck for three weeks has created a hardship for many workers.

"There are some people who can't pay their rent," said Nutt, an 18-year employee.

Fellen said he has been in contact with the state Department of Health Care Services regarding the one-day strike and will use replacement staff if necessary to maintain services.

(fresnobee.com)

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