The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

December 4, 2012

County reaches pact with nursing home employees

By CARL E. FEATHER - cfeather@starbeacon.com
Star Beacon

JEFFERSON —  Commissioners on Tuesday approved a wage re-opener with the bargaining unit that represents 97 employees at the Ashtabula County Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Lauren Davis, human resources director for the county commissioners’ office, said the bargaining agreement with The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 8, Local 3284, was hammered out in just two days.

“I think this has been the best year for us,” Davis said, referring to the way negotiations have gone with the county’s union employees. The county is also in negotiations with the AFSCME local that represents 38 courthouse employees.

Davis said negotiations have been marked by an atmosphere of cooperation and an appreciation of the challenges facing each side.

Generations HealthCare Management manages the nursing home for the county and sent its fiscal officer to the negotiations.

“That really helped us get this done quickly,” Davis said. The representative provided realistic view of the nursing home’s finances, which have been challenged by reimbursement cuts.

“It was not as bad as they thought, but it’s not great,” Davis said of the nursing home’s financial picture.

The contract gives a pay increase of 25 cents per hour in the first year. The annual increase is 2 percent in each of the second and third years

Davis said the biggest change to the contract is an agreement to discontinue the longevity pay benefit. Only those employees who were receiving it prior to December 2011 will continue to be in the program. Previously, an employee became eligible for the bonus in the 11th year of employment; the lump sum was paid out on the anniversary date.

“That was a big deal for (the employees) to give up that to us,” Davis said.

The nursing home is owned by the county as an enterprise entity; the operation is self sustaining and does not draw money from the county’s general fund.

Last summer, the county put up for auction the excess certificates of need for beds at the facility. The auction raised $2 million, but the sale has not been completed. Davis said that possible windfall initially was part of the discussion, but was quickly pulled from the table when the tenuous status of that sale became known to the union.

The new agreement becomes effective Dec. 14 and expires Dec. 13, 2015. It was ratified by a majority vote of the members on Nov. 15.