Unionized workers at four New Jersey nursing and rehabilitation centers, including one in Manchester, are declaring victory after a year-long contract negotiation ended in a settlement they say gives them much of what they asked for.
Members of the 1199 Service Employees International Union struck a deal this week with Seniors Management North, which runs the Manchester Manor Rehabilitation Center and Barnegat Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, as well as four other facilities around the state.
The contract settlement affects 400 workers at four of the company’s nursing homes, including the ones in Ocean County. Company management will offer wage increases of more than 6 percent over the course of the three-year contract, said union spokesman James Canonge, and agreed to absorb a 15.5 percent increase in health benefit costs.
“It was good for us,” said Claire Wombough, a certified nursing assistant who works at Manchester Manor and was at each of the contract negotiation meetings. “For the economy we’re in, it was a great settlement.”
Wombough said the threat of a strike ultimately pushed Seniors Management North into accepting the union’s terms. “We were going to have one more negotiation,” she said. “When they realized we were all standing together and we were actually going to go on strike, that’s when they found the money.”
Jonathan Levitan, Seniors Management’s attorney, said he wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the negotiation process, but said the company was satisfied with the settlement.
“It was a long process, but I think it was a fair deal,” he said. “I don’t think we would have reached an agreement if that wasn’t the case.”
The senior care industry still faces major economic difficulties, he said. The rate of reimbursement that nursing homes get for patients on Medicare isn’t keeping up with climbing costs of care, and the situation has only gotten worse since the summer, when union members rallied around the state to protest proposed increases in their healthcare coverage.
“These are not normal times, and as a result, it was harder to reach a deal in the time frame we’re accustomed to,” he said.
Rosemarie Fermaintt, a CNA at one of Senior North’s north Jersey facilities, said the settlement was worth the wait.
“We didn’t want to strike, but we too a stand, and that is what it took,” she said. “The raises were very important, but the health insurance and our pension – that’s what we were mostly worried about. We’ve got kids in school, we’ve got homes. It’s hard when you get another bill in the mail when you could be using that money toward something else.”