Long-suffering workers, losing their jobs because of mismanagement, demand payout of benefits and severance pay
By TIM ROWDEN
Ferguson, MO – Workers at Christian Care Home, who braved a 104-day strike last holiday season to stand up for better resident care and lawful treatment on the job, are now facing unemployment as a result of the same poor management that forced them to strike.
Lenny Jones, Missouri state director for SEIU Healthcare, which represents about 60 workers at the facility, said the home was taken over last month by the Missouri office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and placed in receivership after failing make its mortgage payments.
The last of the residents were moving, and the workers, as of Friday, Dec. 14, were out of a job.
On Thursday, Dec. 13, workers gathered in front of the home with faith leaders and other community supporters to denounce the state’s refusal to pay workers a severance package or to fully pay out their accrued vacation and sick time benefits.
Jones said the problems at the home all stemmed from mismanagement.
“That was the reason or the strike,” he said. “The workers were fed up with the management of the place.”
Now, Jones said, the union is working to connect workers with job opportunities in other SEIU Healthcare represented facilities and help others apply for unemployment and connect to service through the United Way.
‘IT’S LIKE THEY DON’T CARE’
Beauty Jones, who worked at the home for 35 years as a Certified Medication Technician (CMT), said she is currently applying for unemployment.
“It would have been nice if I could have gotten a severance,” Jones said. “It would have helped me tide over through December. They’re leaving us with nothing. They’re refusing to pay us our benefits that we’ve earned over the years.
“We gave a lot of time to Christian Care Home and to our residents,” she said. “I’ve really enjoyed my working here. I’ve loved my residents. A lot of our residents have been long-term residents. Last year, about this same time, about 100 of us walked out because of the way they were treating the employees and the residents. We cared very much for our residents here, so we found it necessary that we had to make a point about that. Even after we went back in, the conditions were still not that well for us or our residents.
“Now,” she said, “our residents are losing their home. After you’ve been here all this time and they’re just taking our residents away from what they know, from us and their home. They’re just kicking them out. It’s like they don’t care.”
‘OUR WORK HERE IS IMPORTANT’
Brenda Davis, a restorative aide, Certified Nursing Assistant and Certified Medication Technician who was part of the workers’ bargaining team and became the voice of workers on the strike line, lost her job after the strike when she was told her position was no longer available. She now works for the union, but standing outside Christian Care Home on Dec. 13, the tears in her eyes welled up anew.
“We don’t get paid much, but this is so big,” Davis said. “It’s the work that we do. It’s not recognized, but we take care of our residents. Our work here is important. I’m happy that we did what we did here.
“We took a stand that a lot of people would not have taken, and I’m glad that we set that standard. It may be closing, we may be moving on, but I know our union, I believe in our union. I believe in the Labor Movement. And we’re going to keep on until we get everybody a place and we get everybody situated.”
‘WE CAN’T DO ANYTHING
BUT MOVE ON’
Katrice Skinner worked for eight years at Christian Care Home but found a new job recently at Rancho Manor, another SEIU Healthcare represented facility in Florissant, where some of the residents of Christian Care have been moved.
“I walked in the room with one of them and you should have seen her face light up,” Skinner said. “She seemed so happy to see somebody that she knew. Now, when she turns that call light on, they call me and say, ‘Can you come get your granny?’ because she asks for me. I think that’s good. She’s feeling comfortable. She calls me a lot, but I don’t mind because I was so happy to see her tears were in my eyes.”
There are other positions open at Rancho Manor, Skinner said, and she urged her former coworkers to apply.
“The pay is very decent,” she said. “I found a good job. We can’t do anything but move on.”
‘CRIED FOR THREE NIGHTS’
Sheila, a resident who has lived at Christian Care Home for 28 years, bundled up in a winter coat and came out to stand with her caregivers as they gathered outside the home. She said she cried when she was told she had to leave the home, not knowing where she would go. She found a place last week but was waiting for Christian Care Home to finish her paperwork.
“I cried for three nights. I sat in my room and cried until I had a place to go,” she said, receiving hugs and reassurances from the workers. “But I’m going to a good place,” she said, smiling. “I’ve got a bedroom and a bathroom. It’s a good place.”
The workers also were joined by the Rev. Tommie Pierson of Greater St. Mark Family Church in Ferguson, State Representative Doug Beck (D-Affton) and representatives from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Jobs with Justice and the Fight for $15.
Beck promised to do what he could at the state level to at least get the workers paid for their accrued sick leave.
“You guys are my heroes,” Beck said. “To see what you did here, to see you out on the strike line that was awesome. It renewed my fight in many different areas in the state government.”
A member of Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562, Beck said, “I’ve been laid off during the holiday season and I know what it’s like. It’s frustrating on a mental level. People who have never been laid off or never been out of a job, they don’t understand that.”
The closure of the Christian Care Home in Ferguson, where some 65 full-time and 25 part-time workers braved a 104-day strike last year at this time, only to see their jobs disappear a year later, had everything to do with mismanagement.
According to a Nov. 1 letter to the home’s administrator, Donna Cooper, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services fined the home $15,500 in October, stopped reimbursing the home for the care of new residents and threatened to terminate all funding in January if substantial improvements were not made to staffing levels and patient care –– two of the same reasons workers went out on strike.
The home was rated much below average by Medicare with a history of poor quality of care and low staffing levels.
The daughter of a former resident called police Sept. 1 believing her 84-year-old mother had been raped by another resident. The woman, who has dementia and is unable to speak, was treated at a hospital and moved to another nursing facility. An investigation is ongoing.
The woman’s daughter is suing the home’s owner, the Christian Women’s Benevolent Association, on behalf of her mother in St. Louis County Circuit Court.
Medicare fined the home $78,000 in 2016 after investigators found a nurse had slapped a resident who had dementia and more than $8,000 in 2017 for failing to protect residents’ funds
In recent weeks, workers who questioned the home’s future were told there were no plans to close the facility. That changed quickly when the home was unable to make its mortgage payments. The state took over the facility last month and placed it in receivership.
Residents and relatives were told Nov. 20 the home would shut down in January because it didn’t have enough patients or funding to continue to operate.
That timetable was moved up by Michael F. Flanagan, the attorney handling the receivership. All residents were expected to be out of the home last week, and all the workers let go before Christmas.