Learning with the Local Union Leaders

New Orleans      Local 100 United Labor Unions held its 38th consecutive leadership training weekend, this year in New Orleans.  Twenty-five leaders from workplaces in Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana converged to share strategies and tactics, tips and tools.

The meeting started with leaders sharing their views of the economy and how it might be impacting their workplaces, and, perhaps more importantly, whether or not the door was now open for our membership of lower waged workers to press for long denied raises.  Even with current minimum wages at $7.25 per hour and stuck there except for Arkansas because of its pending minimum wage bump. The living wage minimum in New Orleans at $10.55 was also important though less than the $11 per hour starting wages the union had recently won in bargaining at seven different nursing homes around Louisiana.  Winning a starting rate over $10 per hour in Houston Independent Schools had the same impact earlier.

Quickly, the debate moved to whether there was a way to push all boats up in the rising tide to bring our cleaners, custodians, launderers, and cooks up as well.  A leader from the Arkansas Human Development Center in Warren gave some tips they had used to put pressure on their state facility by selective utilization of sick and leave time to push the message to the bosses.  Leaders from Pine Bluff and New Orleans as well as Gulf Coast CAA, the giant Houston Head Start contractor, shared how they had used “work to rule” to send the message to their bosses by resisting efforts to cut the staff by speeding up work and piling on additional responsibilities.

One thing was quickly clear.  Everyone knew this opportunity wouldn’t last long and had to be seized immediately, so the discussion moved to how to organize job classification work groups to take action now, in and outside of binding contracts.  How could the leaders communicate and push forward across the union?  Why not try WhatsApp?  So, all of a sudden in the meeting three people already on the app were helping the rest of the leaders get on.  A sheet was passed around with phone numbers so everyone could connect to a Local 100 Stewards group, as the room crackled with humor and excitement.

This debate segued into a conversation about the 2020 election and how the union should approach it in our deep red states.  After some back and forth on candidates that might be promising to working people, there was consensus that we should follow six candidates that had appeal in a room of our stewards, who happened to all be black and brown women.  The six the leaders settled on were Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Beto O’Rourke.  Another list was passed around for volunteers who would monitor each of these candidates over the next six months on our issues and share the intelligence gathered with the rest of the stewards on the WhatsApp group.

All this was just the beginning in what turned out to be a great leadership conference, rich with ideas and energy, giving hope and deepening commitment across the union.

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Federal Penalties Coming to Middle South Nursing Homes for Care Failures

New Orleans       There are few lobbies as powerful as the nursing home owners’ groups in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi.  All of which makes the intervention of federal rules extending some of the same accountability standards that hospitals now face, welcome news.  The fact that the penalties go right to their pocketbooks is even better news.

Here’s the deal on the new rules hitting nursing homes across the country now.  Penalties – or incentives for those doing better – will be meted out to nursing homes based on the frequency of readmission of elderly Medicare patients that are returned to hospitals within thirty days of leaving a skilled nursing home.  The financial penalty can reach up to 2% of the individual Medicare reimbursement rate per patient.  Hospitals already have to measure up to this standard and in recent months nursing homes came under the same regime.

Will this affect many homes?  Yes, indeed!

Kaiser Health News reported an analysis of homes in Louisiana and found that 85% of the 277 skilled nursing facilities in the state would be subject to a penalty based on data from 2015 through 2017.  Not that Louisiana was by itself since the figures for nursing homes in Arkansas and Mississippi was almost exactly the same.  Bottom line:  the vast majority of nursing homes in the three-state area are facing penalties.  The Advocate reports that in New Orleans for example, a dozen facilities will face a penalty and only two will receive small bonuses for doing right.  These are not just problems with for-profit providers.  The three homes overseen by the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans will each receive almost the maximum penalty for each new admission at 1.98% of the possible 2%.

The question of how nursing homes can provide better care to patients, often elderly, sick, and frail, is a constant concern for families and appropriately for public policy.  Reading the comments from administrators of homes that got the good grades under the new rule, they cite getting more thorough information from the hospitals about incoming and prospective patients is key as well as offering preventive care on site.

All of that sounds right, but given the long experience that Local 100, United Labor Unions, has had in representing nursing home workers and observing care conditions firsthand, it will be difficult to fundamentally improve care until staffing levels are adequate to the significant health demands of patients as a first priority.  Being able to retain professional caregivers also means compensating workers commensurate to the value of the service they provide to families and patients.  In the thirty or more years that we have been involved with nursing homes we still see a conflict faced by many home owners and operators between seeing the facilities as real estate developments with a sideline in healthcare as opposed to healthcare facilities that happen to be built on real estate.

We’ve got a long way to go still, but hopefully the application of this new rule will bring some change now that owners will feel the pain of nonperformance in dollars and cents.

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