Muskegon nursing facility workers plan picket next week after contract negotiations break down

By: - March 7, 2023 8:15 am

Rep. Will Snyder (D-Muskegon) joins workers from McAuley Rehabilitation and Wellness in Muskegon to protest what they said are unfair labor practices and demand a new contract. | Photo courtesy of SEIU Healthcare Michigan

Employees at a Muskegon skilled nursing facility plan to begin picketing next week following a breakdown in talks over a new contract.

The nearly 60 members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) work at McAuley Rehabilitation and Wellness, formerly known as Sanctuary at McAuley, and say there is a staffing crisis at the facility, which is run by Trinity Health.

Speaking at a press conference Monday, Dawn Rose, a nursing assistant at Sanctuary at McAuley said while patients valued the staff’s consistency and experience, management did not, creating serious retention issues.

“Fifty percent of our staff have been there for less than a year, and quite a few of them are even newly certified aids,” said Rose. “The kitchen and the housekeeping staff are essential to keep a pleasant environment and provide a good patient and resident experience. They have been woefully left behind at even market value pay with no regards to their experience and their loyalty, with staff leaving healthcare in droves. We have been trying to address this retention problem, but Trinity has walked away from negotiations.”

After SEIU issued a picket notice on March 2, the union says Trinity Health representatives effectively ended negotiations when they walked out of bargaining.

However, a spokesperson from Trinity Health Senior Communities, a member of Trinity Health that oversees the facility, said in a statement to Michigan Advance that they had negotiated in good faith with the collective bargaining union.

“We have provided 14 proposals over the course of 10 negotiation sessions,” read the statement. “Unfortunately, on Thursday, March 2, the union walked away from our best and final offer, which offered a generous wage increase.”

Rose, on Monday, disputed that characterization.

“Their final wage offer was 38% less than the staff are currently making,” she said. “How can we give quality care to our patients and our residents if we’re not given competitive pay, wages, safe working conditions and respect as workers in their facility? Trinity has made more than $40 billion in profits and accepted hundreds of millions in government backed PRF (Provider Relief Fund) loans. We call on Trinity to come back to the negotiating table to bargain for a fair contract and solutions to our retention crisis.”

Trinity Health Senior Communities says they remain committed to finding a reasonable and sustainable solution that supports employees.

“McAuley Rehabilitation and Wellness values our colleagues’ commitment to providing compassionate, healing care to those we serve. Our colleagues are key to this high-quality, high-touch care.”

In what the union hopes will be a show of solidarity, they have invited the public to join the workers at the March 13 picket from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in front of the Sanctuary at McAuley that will also include elected officials and community leaders.

Among those supporters is state Rep. Will Snyder (D-Muskegon), who also spoke at Monday’s press conference.

“It’s sad that we must once again assemble to get what the hardworking people of Muskegon deserve, a chance at a fair contract,” he said. “The results of last November’s election have provided proof that a new day has dawned in Michigan. No longer will we take advantage of workers. No longer will taking advantage of workers go unnoticed and unchallenged. Michigan’s legislative majority is fighting for and delivering for working families daily.”

Snyder said evidence of McAuley’s retention crisis was the 153% turnover of employees in the past year. 

“In order to provide quality care and show respect for all employees, Trinity must do better when it comes to wages, benefits, and fair treatment,” said Snyder. “We must hold Trinity to the highest of standards. As the largest employee in my district, and in Muskegon County, they set the example that others will follow.”

The planned picket in Muskegon follows SEIU Healthcare Michigan’s announcement in January that up to 1,000 nursing home workers were preparing to go on strike in metro Detroit. 

While the union says negotiations have since progressed at many of these facilities, workers are still preparing to strike in the event they do not receive a contract. 

Meanwhile, nearly 300 respiratory therapists and technologists at the University of Michigan’s University Hospital and C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital have requested recognition with SEIU Healthcare Michigan, the largest union in the state that represents hospital workers.

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2021 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell, where he also serves on the Board of Directors for the Livingston Diversity Council.