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Caryn Nelson stood along Freeport Road in Harmar on Thursday afternoon holding a sign that read “Heroes Deserve Health Care.”
Nelson, 31, of Lower Burrell, is a certified nursing assistant and part of a group of employees of Harmar Village Care Center picketing in front of the facility.
“We aid in keeping people alive,” Nelson said. “We do all the essential tasks of keeping them fed and clothed and bathed, and sometimes it’s physically straining. It’s definitely emotionally straining work. When you add this pandemic on top of it, it’s really taxing.
“We’re having a hard time keeping staff because it’s overwhelming, which means that we’re all doing the work of two or three staff members.”
For all that she does, Nelson said she makes $15 an hour. She is not asking for much of a raise.
“I definitely think we deserve at least $17 (an hour), if not higher.”
Nelson, who works 32 hours a week, said she is worried she soon won’t have health care because the care center’s managing company, Grane Health Care, no longer wants to provide it for employees who work less than 40 hours a week.
“They want us to sign off that we don’t have to have it. And then they want the people who work 40 hours to pay a lot more for their health care, which would be like having a pay decrease — or just not having health care at all — in the middle of a pandemic.”
The workers carried signs that read “Harmar United” and “Essential Workers Deserve More.” They also chanted slogans such as “Harmar United will never be defeated.” A similar picket took place at another Grane facility in Mt Pleasant, Westmoreland County.
The company and the employees, represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), are negotiating a new contract. The last contract expired in May but has been extended incrementally as negotiations continue.
“Harmar Village Care Center has offered a competitive wage increase in each year of a proposed three-year contract, to each of its employees,” said Grane Healthcare president Mark L. Fox in a statement provided to the Trib. “This offer has been extended, despite the fact that Harmar Village, which receives the vast majority of its funding through Medicaid reimbursements, has not received a single increase to its reimbursement rate for over five years.”
However, Debbie Wenzel, a personal care aid and president of SEIU Healthcare PA’s Harmar Village chapter, said she and the rest of the workers are worth more than the company is offering.
“I’ve been here for 18 years and I made it to $15.15 an hour,” Wenzel said. “I find it a shame because I’ve been doing this kind of work for 45 years.
“I feel I should be up to at least $17.15 an hour. We have a lot of responsibilities.
“We act as (licensed nurse practitioners) and pass out (medicine) and because of short staffing we are physically and mentally drained.
“Since covid, it’s become a staffing crisis. People quit because of the workload.”
Ashlee Raybet, a nurse at Harmar Village Care Center, said the employees there are making less than what those at similar nursing homes are making.
“There’s been no increase with covid and we need something different. I’ve been a nurse for four years and I make $21 an hour, which takes me out of hazard pay, even though I work with covid patients,” Raybert said. “If I was under $20 an hour, I would get an extra $3 an hour for working with covid patients.”
For her part, Wenzel said Thursday’s event gave the workers an opportunity to show that they are strong and united.
“I just hope that we do succeed in this and we will continue to stand up and fight back. Everybody that works in that facility deserves a raise. We are the front-liners, and we know our worth.”
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]
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