January 31, 2024

Pay increases follow victory over privatization

The members of AFSCME Local 3537 at the DeKalb County Nursing Home fought a multi-year fight against the privatization of their beloved public nursing home, finally prevailing last fall.

Publicly owned and operated for 170 years, the county home came under threat from a County Board plan to sell it off to a for-profit buyer. Staff and residents alike were concerned about the implications of transitioning the public good into a tool to extract money from its elderly residents.

After AFSCME raised concerns about the reputation and checkered history of the would-be buyer, the sale was terminated by a state review board.

With the wind from that victory in their sails, the local entered negotiations for a new contract. They sought wage increases to help foster better recruitment and retention, along with fairer treatment for staff.

Just two months later, they inked a new three-year contract that raises pay by an average of 24.1%.

“I think this contract is fantastic with the wages,” said Chuck Simpson, the president of Local 3537 and a restorative aide at the home. “It feels like a new day at the DeKalb County Nursing Home. We opened the door for people to want to come work here.”

High on their priority list was reducing the home’s reliance on CNAs from staffing agencies, and to set wages for those titles high enough for the county to hire and retain its own CNAs. They succeeded, with wages for CNAs increasing by 14.9% in each of the first two years of the contract.

“To fight to save that nursing home, then to get a fantastic contract on top of it, it does feel like good things are coming our way,” Simpson said. “When we start getting more residents and staff, we’re going to be doing great.”

They also won new and improved rules around overtime and paid time off. Under the former policy, if swapping shifts with a co-worker put one of their members into overtime, the county only paid the regular rate. Under the new language, the county will work with employees to find shift swaps that don’t lead to overtime, but if there are none available, overtime will be paid.

Additionally, management can no longer issue blanket denials for vacation requests made around holidays. The new language acknowledges that holidays can make staffing difficult, but as long as staffing is adequate, requests can’t be denied.

The contract was ratified unanimously. The bargaining committee included Simpson, Mike Brock and was led by Council 31 Staff Representative Erik Thorson.

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