FEBRUARY 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News
Signitures gained to force nursing home issue to voters ballot
BY PAUL TUCKER
LEHIGH VALLEY, January 16th- Labor organizations representing workers employed at the Gracedale nursing home participated with the gaining of signatures of the public on petitions that will be used to force Northampton County, which owns and operates the facility in Upper Nazareth Township, to place the issue of privatization on the voters ballot.
The Coalition for Alzheimer’s Families submitted more than 23,000 signatures on January 18th, which was over 3,700 more than needed to force County officials to put the issue to the voters of whether they would rather the nursing home remain owned by Northampton County.
The nine member Northampton County Council voted in favor on August 19th, 2010 to seek offers for the 725 bed nursing home which has around 650 residents.
County officials have stated selling the nursing home, which is owned and operated by Northampton County, is about saving taxpayers money. There are approximately 750 workers, 600 full-time and 150 part-time, employed at the nursing home.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union Local 1435 represents around 600 workers employed at the nursing home including food service, cleaning and other support employees.
The United Steelworkers of America (USW) Union Local 2599 in Bethlehem represents approximately 50 nurses and social aid workers.
Both unions oppose the selling of the facility. The unions fear should the facility be sold to an outside operator their members will be required to give big wage and benefits concessions and contract langugage that protects their members will be changed.
The nursing home sell could be prevented if Northampton County residents vote not to privatize the facility. The minimum signitures that was needed to force the issue to be placed on the ballot was 19,630. The petitions will be checked to assure the signitures are those of registered voters of Northampton County.
Local 2599 President Jerry Green told the newspaper he personally brought petitions to local shopping malls and requested customers read and sign them.
“Most of the people we talked to were against selling the nursing home. I feel the voters want the nursing home to remain county owned,” said Mr. Green.
AFSCME agreed to the opening of their contract allowing for contract concessions hoping to change Northampton County officials about selling the facility. However, the county continues to pursue privatization.
After Lackawanna County sold their nursing home in March 2010, the new owners began to violate the labor agreement with the union that represents the workers. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has since filed multible labor complaints against the Employer.