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Strike Two

After months of stalled labor negotiations, workers at three local nursing homes checked in at the picket line instead of the time clock on March 5, beginning their second strike in less than four months.

As previously reported in Metroland [Newsfront, Nov. 27], workers represented by the 1199 Service Employees International labor union at two of the three nursing homes, Guilderland Center and Rosewood Gardens in East Greenbush, have been engaged in negotiations with their employer, Highgate Management Llc., since spring of last year.

During that time, the workers’ requests for pay raises and better health benefits have been countered by offers from management that union representatives said are unacceptable. Mindy Berman, a union representative, said management’s bargaining practices, and the alleged decline in resident care and living conditions at both homes, have moved the workers to go ahead with this open-ended strike.

“I have no clue when the workers will come back,” Berman said. “Until [management] is ready to come back to the table and bargain in good faith, I guess. The fact that they are not is just flagrant disregard for the families, the workers and the patients. They don’t seem to care.”

In a last-minute effort to avoid the strike, U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty (D-Green Island) sent a letter asking both parties to “find a process to settle your disputes that does not involve a strike . . . and choose a panel of neutral mediators who will make a non-binding written recommendation for a settlement of a dispute.”

But Highgate management has refused to meet with a mediator, even to come to a non-binding agreement, stating in Tuesday’s Times Union that their negotiator was on vacation. Representatives from Highgate did not return calls for comment on this story.

1199 SEIU represents approximately 150 permanent workers at Rosewood Gardens and Guilderland Center, and employees from another Highgate nursing home, Hilltop in Niskayuna, who will join the strike. Temporary or staffing-agency workers will staff the three local nursing homes until both parties come to some form of an agreement.

“I think that the residents will be confused because they won’t have that continuity of care,” Bergman said. “But we have an emergency staffing committee, and if there is an emergency, the owners can come to the committee and the committee will look at it and determine if some of the workers need to return.”

The State Department of Health will also be monitoring resident care via daily visits throughout the strike.

—T.D.


Stay the Executions

A resolution calling for a moratorium on all executions in New York state passed the Albany Common Council unanimously Thursday, Feb. 20, adding the city’s residents to the growing number of voices that are calling for a second look at New York’s capital-punishment law.

Richard Conti (Ward 6), the resolution’s sponsor, sees this as another step toward action. “One way to build grassroots support for state action or federal action is to have local communities express their support,” he said.

As reported in Metroland [Newsfront, Feb. 20], more than 55 groups and organizations in the Capital Region are supporting a moratorium on capital punishment in New York. The goal is to examine the fairness and accuracy of a system that is, according to some, seriously flawed.

“We’ve done our part, in putting the Common Council’s support on record and adding our voice to the many voices,” said Conti.

Once adopted, the resolution was handed off to the governor and the state Legislature, said Conti. “The governor can, by executive order, initiate a moratorium or the Legislature can, on its own, adopt a law initiating a moratorium and then establishing a process for review of capital-punishment law, and what steps should be taken to ensure that it’s not biased and not error-prone,” said Conti.

Gov. George E. Pataki signed the current death-penalty law in New York in 1995, and as of August 2002, there were six people on death row. The governor’s press office did not return phone calls for this story.

“It seems like the strategy is . . . hoping the issue will go away if they ignore it,” said David Kaczynski, executive director of New Yorkers Against the Death Penalty, and a key proponent of the resolution. “I think it’s not going to go away, particularly as we get more and more people on death row and the problems become more and more obvious, just as they have in other states.” Maryland and Illinois have both adopted moratoriums on capital punishment after evidence of bias and wrongful conviction surfaced.

This evidence is changing the way the public views capital punishment, Kaczynski said.

He added, “Politicians who support the death penalty have said, ‘People demand the death penalty,’ but we’re seeing a shift in public opinion.”

This support from the public is the most important factor in bringing about any change, Conti said. “[The resolution is] also a matter of public education about the issue. It’s an old quote: ‘The leaders will follow when the people lead.’ ”

—John Gallagher


Drugstore Free Zone

As previously reported in Metroland [Newsfront, Nov. 21, 2002], the Eckerd drugstore chain has been trying to demolish two historic buildings in Lansingburgh to build an 11,000 square-foot drugstore since December 1999. Apparently, the company has given up.

Earlier this month, members of the Historic Action Network discovered that the Clearwater, Fla.-based chain had withdrawn its proposal to raze an 89-year-old former Freihofer’s bakery building and the 109-year-old structure that formerly housed the Riverside social club.

Throughout the life of Eckerd’s proposal, which had been withdrawn and resubmitted once before, community members kept pressure on the chain to use the existing structures. But citing the high costs of retrofitting the buildings, the company refused, and eventually was taken to court to halt the buildings’ destruction.

Russell Ziemba, cofounder of Historic Action Network, was pleased that the buildings wouldn’t be demolished and hopes Eckerd’s plans to build the big box will remain shelved.

“Both buildings have been fixtures in the community for years,” said Ziemba. “So many people have such fond memories of smelling the bread in the bakery and the horse-drawn wagons that operated till the 1960s. People experience pain when fixtures of their community are demolished; they feel a sense of loss and feel like they are losing their community.”

But the fight to save the buildings, located on Second Avenue in Lansingburgh at the foot of the 126th Street bridge, is not done yet. The Freihofer’s company will vacate all operations in the former bakery building in April, leaving both without occupants—and up for sale.

“Given their strategic location, we’re kind of worried that Freihofer’s may want to demolish the buildings to make the site more appealing,” said Ziemba.

But Ziemba said Historic Action has been trying to interest a number of possible buyers who might be able to use the two buildings.

“These are two well-built structures with rare and interesting architecture,” Ziemba said. “Over the years we’ve been trying to interest people in these buildings, but having a pending proposal for the site that would include demolition of both buildings, it has been difficult.”

—T.D.


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