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Workers at Fayette Health & Rehabilitation Center, a skilled nursing facility in Baltimore, hold an ‘informational picket’ in December to protest the proposed labor contract. (Photo courtesy of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East)

Baltimore nursing home workers plan strike

About 50 workers at Fayette Health & Rehabilitation Center in Baltimore are beginning a 24-hour strike Thursday morning to protest the most recent contract proposal from the nursing home’s management.

The employees — including nurse aides and maintenance workers — hope to build on the momentum established by the recent strike staged by Johns Hopkins Hospital workers, according to a spokeswoman for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the union that represents both groups of employees.

But the situation at Fayette Health & Rehab — a skilled nursing facility offering both short- and long-term care — had already been tense months before the three-day strike at Hopkins. The Fayette workers’ contract ended in November and they were unable to reach another agreement.

The union would not accept the “last, best and final” contract offer proposed by management, and in December, the workers staged a one-day informational picket to protest the offer. There has been no progress since then, union spokeswoman Rae Rawls said.

“I think the workers have really had enough, so they want to get the ball rolling and put on the pressure,” Rawls said.

But the center’s administrators are also frustrated with the lack of progress, according to a statement from Executive Director Karen Hall-Thickman, who said management has been working hard to reach an agreement.

“We have tried to bargain in good faith with the union and are disappointed our offer has not been accepted,” Hall-Thickman said in the statement. “We want to reach an agreement that’s fair to our employees, but one that also recognizes the financial challenges our facility faces.”

Hall-Thickman declined to answer further questions, including inquiries related to the financial condition of the facility, which is private and for-profit.

According to 1199SEIU, about 80 percent of workers at Fayette make less than $14.92 per hour, the wage that qualifies a single parent and child for food stamps. The union asked for a 3.25 percent annual wage hike during each year of the three-year contract.

Fayette Health’s owner, Cincinnati-based CommuniCare — which owns various health care facilities in several states, including seven others in Maryland — proposed giving workers 1 percent annual raises that Rawls said would be tied to the center’s profits, which she said means the increases would not be guaranteed.

“While we will not discuss the details of the offer we made, we believe it was a fair one,” Hall-Thickman said in her statement. “It would bring the union’s compensation package in line with what employees at other facilities in this market make and what our employees at our other facilities receive.”

The facility’s proposal also included wage caps for all union employees and would cease a program called the Training and Upgrading Fund, which helps workers receive further education and training.

Workers want to preserve that program, Rawls said.

The next bargaining date will be June 26 and will be facilitated by a federal mediator if no agreement is reached before then.