Union employees picket vets home
Wages at Charlotte Hall at issue; company says benefits proposal is ‘very good package’
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.
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.