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Pickets demand better staffing, more pay
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United Health Care Workers picketed in front of the Palm Care Center Thursday demanding more staffing and better pay at the facility where administrators say their pay rate is competitive. - photo by GLENN KAHL
With bull horns in hand, Service Employees International, United Health Care Union organizers led a picket line in continuous chants outside the Palm Haven Care Center Thursday afternoon demanding better staffing and increased pay for workers.

An estimated dozen staff members, along with friends and family members, walked the line in the 400 block of East North Street for over two hours drawing police to enforce no-parking demands in the facility’s parking stalls.

Palm Haven administrator Eric Roderiques said he didn’t understand why the employees were picketing while active negotiations are underway to establish a new contract at the 99 bed facility.

He said since the union contract expired last spring two separate unions have been vying to represent the Palm Haven closed shop staff of some 108 part- and full-time staffers.  

The union and Palm Haven negotiators have already met on June 16 and on Wednesday of the week, according to the skilled nursing facility director.  He said the union made its demands and the facility has already offered a counter proposal.  

“It is confusing to us why they are picketing when we are in negotiations,” Roderiques said.  “If they have concerns it should be in the bargaining sessions not on the sidewalks.”

Roderiques said the union is asking for a 75 cents an hour pay increase across the board – saying it would be an unrealistic business move for Palm Haven after having recently researched the existing pay scales at other skilled nursing homes in Stockton, Ripon and Modesto.  He insisted that pay rates at Palm Haven either meet or exceed that of the skilled nursing facilities in surrounding communities.  

He added that with the threat of cuts in government and Medicare support for nursing homes in the future, it doesn’t make sense to increase wages beyond that of the competition.

One certified nursing assistant (CNA) who had been walking the picket line said she had been terminated June 3 after going to her car to get a pen to fill out paper work.   She said she had served as the union shop steward. She said she was out of the building for less than two minutes.

Another staffer complained that Palm Haven is understaffed for the number of residents they have in the facility.  She claimed that there is only one CNA for every 13 to 14 patients bedded down at the site.  The nurse said new hires make only 40 cents an hour less than she does after being on staff for five yeas.

The nursing home director refuted the charge that his facility is understaffed.  

The minimum numbers required to be on the floor is mandated by state law, he said.  It must be 3.2 hours  per day per patient every day.  He claimed staffing numbers are confirmed every day.

“You’re hearing we are short handed, that’s absolutely not true,” he insisted.