Milford Manor workers feeling the squeeze

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:59

WEST MILFORD — Sandy Babcock lived in West Milford for 50 years. She raised three boys as a single mom by working at The Milford Manor as a Certified Nursing Assistant. In her job she does a lot of the things most of us would rather not think about ...things like bathing her elderly clientele, cleaning their messes, brushing their teeth, combing their hair, calming their fears and helping them get through the day. But those things don’t bother Sandy at all. “These people, they are like family,” she said. “You get to where you love them so much.” And even that has its difficult side, since all her clients eventually die. “It’s devastating, I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it’s still so hard to handle when one of them passes.” These days, Sandy’s future at the nursing home is tenuous. “Everything has gone up but my pay,” she said. She recently moved from West Milford to Vernon because of the lower taxes there. But making ends meet is still a struggle. To be a Certified Nursing Assistant, one has to take a course and pass a qualifying test, be fingerprinted and put on file with the federal government. To stay in the position a continuing education course is required every two years. And yet some assistants start at about $7 an hour — which is lower than the minimum wage in some states. At Milford Manor the workers are represented by the health care union known as SEIU 1199. Milford Manor is part of a chain owned by Gericare. SEIU 1199 and Gericare have been in contract negotiations since March and still there is no resolution. But Sandy and her co-workers do not want to strike. Instead, they have been holding rallies in an attempt to garner support from the community. Issues include pension and heath care benefits and equal pay for equal work. Nursing homes that pay on a lower scale frequently lose workers to slighty higher paying facilities. Many nursing home workers have spent the past two and a half years lobbying for money to improve patient care and recently the federal government granted $80 million to nursing home facilities in New Jersey. Because of this, Roy Garcia, communications coordinator of SEIU 1199 says, “It’s not like we’re coming to the table empty handed.” The workers are hoping for arbitration.