by Malou Liwanag-Aguilar/Asianjournal.com
MILLBRAE — Health workers at Emmanuel Convalescent Hospital in Millbrae held a 24-hour strike last Friday, Feb. 22, over allegations that the new owners have violated lawsseveral federal labor laws, including cuts in benefits and firing of workers who were union members.
There are approximately 87 employees at Emmanuel, all represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) United Healthcare Workers-West. It was reported that caregivers in the facility lost benefits since the Ragudos took over. The union also said that eight union activists were fired without just cause. The Ragudos have denied the allegations and claimed the opposite.
The 140-bed nursing home was purchased last August by Filipinos Amparo and Carlos Ragudo of A&C Health Care Services from the now-bankrupt Pleasant Care Corporation, which was also owned by a Filipino. Majority of the healthcare workers in Emmanuel are Filipinos and Samoans.
In a phone interview with Asian Journal, A&C Chief Financial Officer Ampy Ragudo said, “The demands of the workers are horrendously high and extremely unreasonable.” She also added that they have agreed to meet again with the union on Feb. 27, Wednesday.
Mau Kiliona, a healthcare worker who participated in the strike last Friday, said that the union already met with the owners twice, but nothing came out from the meetings. “They have not recognized anything, or any contract. They have cut our pension contributions and only gave us 50 percent of monthly health insurance,” she said.
Two Filipino healthcare workers who have requested to remain anonymous have also expressed their disappointment about the new owners’ actions. “Hindi nila ni-recognize ang union. Para silang mga bata, pabago-bago ng isip. (They refused to recognize the union. They’re like kids, who keep on changing their minds.)” Both workers have worked for five years, and have also added that the nursing home is understaffed.
This has made the union upset, since the Ragudos reduced caregivers’ health, retirement and paid time-off benefits. However, according to Ragudo, previous owner Pleasant Care Corporation never signed the workers’ contract, making any policies from the old ownership void. Charges of unfair labor practices have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, which will decide if the accusations have merit. Ragudo explained that A&C has only been managing the home for six months and that it still has to see how it will be able to get its return in terms of revenue. “If I can find a health plan that is within the budget, we will give it to our employees,” she said and added, “but their demands are unreasonable, like asking for a three times a year increase.
As for the striking workers, it was back to work as usual, after the 24-hour strike last Friday. Still, they say that they are prepared to go on strike again if the union and the Ragudos fail to come to an agreement about the reinstating the benefits of the workers.