Livingston Hills talks near impasse

Livingston Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. File photo

LIVINGSTON — After more than a year, negotiations for a new contract with employees of Livingston Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation Center are nearing an impasse, a union spokeswoman said Friday.

Disagreements over employee health insurance has some workers on the fence about leaving Livingston Hills altogether.

“When I first got hired they told me the rate of pay and I pretty much laughed, and then they explained to me what the benefits were. And that’s what keeping me there, not the pay, the benefits,” said AnnMarie Fran, a housekeeper at Livingston Hills. “And the fact that we’re fighting so hard, especially to stay healthy, especially in a pandemic, I don’t understand why these owners are putting dollar signs on human lives.”

Workers at Livingston Hills Nursing Home have been without a contract for over a year, according to Mindy Berman, regional communications director for Local 1199 Service Employees International Union, United Healthcare Workers East, the union that represents Livingston Hills employees.

For the first year and a half Fran worked at Livingston Hills she had been healthy, but now has several medical issues requiring medication, medical testing and seeing her doctor and specialists regularly, Fran said. Without affordable comprehensive medical coverage she would not be able to afford her medical bills, she said.

“I only work part-time, I make very little money to begin with,” Fran said. “And for them to take a third to a half of my paycheck for medical coverage and I still have to pay co-pays and still have to pay a high deductible, I can’t afford that, so I have to choose — do I put food on my table for my family or do I go with the medical and therefore I have no money left over for anything else? My choice would be obviously clear — I would have to find something else with better medical benefits.”

Two new health care plans have been proposed for Livingston Hills employees, Berman said. The less costly of the two would be through CDPHP and cost individuals $400 a month plus additional co-pays.

The typical Livingston Hills housekeeping employee earns around $12 an hour, Berman said.

The minimum wage in this area of New York is $11.80 an hour, according to the state Labor Department.

“We are the ones, if they say they care about their residents, we are the ones caring for their residents, we are the ones on the front line, we are the ones that make sure that the residents’ safety is first and foremost,” Fran said. “And if we can’t take care of ourselves because we lose our benefits, how are we going to be able to stay and be able to take care of these residents?”

Livingston Hills owner Jeffrey Vegh declined to comment on contract negotiations and referred questions to his attorney, Ian Bogaty, who could not be reached for comment after multiple calls.

In 2004, Local 1199 SEIU members at Livingston Hills negotiated the Greater NY Health Benefit Fund. With that contract, which is still in place, employees have employer-paid premiums and little to no out-of-pocket costs, Berman said.

The union is disputing the new contract management is trying to put in place.

“I don’t like change, I like to know what I’m coming into every day,” said Melissa White-Thompson, who has worked at Livingston Hills for 27 years as a certified nursing assistant and in several other positions. “You like coming in and working with the people you work with, but everybody has changed, and I don’t mean for the better, either. People do not stay. Since the union came my benefits are a big reason why I stay, because I have five children. All five of my children were on my insurance at one time.”

White-Thompson said her youngest child remains on her insurance and for the past two years has been undergoing treatment for leukemia.

Between hospital stays, medication, a stem-cell transplant and other medical procedures, the total cost of her daughter’s treatments have added up to millions of dollars.

“We were thinking that we were going to have to do another stem-cell transplant,” White-Thompson said. “If she does, they’re using me. So why do I need my insurance? If I don’t have insurance, who’s going to do that for her?

“There’s no humanity,” White-Thompson said. “They all know my story here. I’ve been going through this for two years with her and I’m still here every day.”

Seventy-four Livingston Hills employees are impacted by the negotiations, Berman said.

Local 1199 SEIU announced they will hold a candlelight vigil to protest the lack of a new contract Dec. 1 from 2:30-4 p.m. at 2781 Route 9, Livingston.

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