Union em­ploy­ees picket vets home

Wages at Char­lotte Hall at is­sue; com­pany says ben­e­fits pro­posal is ‘very good pack­age’

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By DANDAN ZOU dzou@somd­news.com

Nearly three dozen union mem­bers pick­eted out­side of the Char­lotte Hall Vet­er­ans Home over the Vet­er­ans Day week­end in hope to pres­sure HMR Vet­er­ans Ser­vices to rene­go­ti­ate their con­tract terms.

On Fri­day and Satur­day, mem­bers from District Lodge 4, a lo­cal chap­ter of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Ma­chin­ists and Aerospace Work­ers, gath­ered out­side the vet­er­ans home with signs that said “Blow­ing the whis­tle on HMR Vet­er­ans Ser­vices” next to a large, in­flated rat with three of the same signs hang­ing on the bal­loon’s claws.

Con­tracted by the Mary­land Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs to pro­vide ser­vices for res­i­dents at the vet­er­ans home since 2002, the South Carolina-based com­pany runs a staff of about 450 work­ers, serv­ing 405 res­i­dents.

Af­ter months of ne­go­ti­a­tions, union work­ers said the last of­fer they re­ceived from HMR Vet­er­ans Ser­vices in­cluded no ben­e­fits

in­creases and not much in the way of wage in­creases, ei­ther.

Rep­re­sent­ing more than 200 em­ploy­ees who work at Char­lotte Hall, many of whom are nurs­ing as­sis­tants, ac­tiv­ity aides, unit clerks and main­te­nance crew mem­bers, a union spokesman said some of its mem­bers de­cided to picket out­side of the vet­er­ans home on Vet­er­ans Day and the day prior to raise aware­ness on the “sub­stan­dard” way the work­ers are be­ing treated by HMR.

What a bet­ter chance to “in­form the pub­lic about the com­pany who poorly treated the men and women who take care of the vets,” said Mark Du­val, an IAM union rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Du­val said the dis­play of the in­flated rat is a com­mon union prac­tice used to sig­nal that the work­ers are not happy with the com­pany or man­age­ment.

The main fo­cus of the on­go­ing la­bor dis­pute is the wage is­sue.

Start­ing pays for dif­fer­ent po­si­tions vary. But for the geri­atric nurs­ing as­sis­tant po­si­tion, for ex­am­ple, the start­ing salary for first-year, full-time em­ploy­ees is $11.95, which the union said is not a liv­ing wage. Its pro­posed start­ing wage for the same po­si­tion is $12.40.

Four women who pick­eted out­side of the vet­er­ans home Satur­day said many work­ers are sin­gle moms who are work­ing two jobs or do­ing 30 to 40 hours of over­time in Char­lotte Hall to make ends meet. With their faces cov­ered, they said they wished to stay anony­mous out of fear of los­ing their jobs.

The state’s min­i­mum wage is $9.25 per hour and is set to in­crease to $10.10 in July of 2018. Set by Mary­land’s com­mis­sion of la­bor for state ser­vice con­tracts, the “liv­ing wage” is $10.36 per hour for tier 2 ju­ris­dic­tions, which Char­lotte Hall falls un­der.

To Du­val, the state’s stan­dard of a liv­ing wage is not a liv­ing wage if some work­ers are qual­i­fied for gov­ern­ment as­sis-

tance pro­grams such as food stamps.

“It’s ex­tremely low when an em­ployee can go to Wawa and pour cof­fee for $13-some­thing an hour,” he said, ad­ding work­ers should be paid more than $12 when they are car­ing for the vet­er­ans in a staterun fa­cil­ity.

HMR, in re­sponse, said its pro­posal is “a very good pack­age” that in­cludes pay in­creases and good ben­e­fits.

“We have sub­mit­ted what we be­lieve a good, com­pet­i­tive of­fer for the em­ploy­ees,” said Hey­ward Hil­liard, vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions at HMR Vet­er­ans Ser­vices.

The com­pany of­fers a ben­e­fits pack­age that in­cludes 25 to 35 days

of an­nual paid time off, health in­sur­ance and 401(k) match. Paid time off in­cludes hol­i­days, sick leave and va­ca­tion.

Hil­liard said as an em­ployer of choice, HMR has a much lower staff turnover rate com­pared to other long-term care and vet­er­ans facilities, and the state and na­tional av­er­ages. The com­pany also added more than 200 jobs and ex­panded their ser­vices since tak­ing over 15 years ago, Hil­liard said. In 2002, Char­lotte Hall had about 250 em­ploy­ees and 260 vet­er­ans.

Since the vet­er­ans home is state prop­erty, any group or in­di­vid­ual is per­mit­ted to hold in­for­ma­tional events or demon­stra­tions as al-

lowed by state law and reg­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to a state­ment is­sued by Sharon Mur­phy, di­rec­tor of the Vet­er­ans Home Pro­gram at Char­lotte Hall Vet­er­ans Home.

The Mary­land Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs is not a party in the la­bor ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the union and HMR, ac­cord­ing to Mur­phy’s state­ment. The state VA is mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion to en­sure there is no dis­rup­tion to the op­er­a­tion of the vet home and no com­pro­mise to care of its res­i­dents, the state­ment said.

Union mem­bers are sched­uled to take a vote in two weeks on whether to ac­cept or re­ject HMR’s of­fer.

STAFF PHOTO BY DANDAN ZOU

Stephen Scott of Hugh­esville holds a sign that says “Blow­ing the whis­tle on HMR Vet­er­ans Ser­vices” next to a large, in­flated rat with the same signs hang­ing on its claws on Vet­er­ans Day out­side of Char­lotte Hall Vet­er­ans Home.

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