Union threatens to strike at Baltimore nursing home

May 30, 1991|By Michael K. Burns

In a labor dispute that involves old adversaries, union workers at the Irvington Knolls Care Center have given notice that they will strike the West Baltimore nursing home unless they have a new contract by June 13.

Union officials say they have been negotiating without progress since November with operators of the 147-bed home, which was licensed by the state over a year ago with the transfer of allotted beds from the Mount Vernon nursing home that closed down two years ago.

The principal owner of the Irvington Knolls facility is Sonya Goodman, a politically active entrepreneur whose former corporation was convicted of Medicaid fraud in 1985 for lying to the state about income and expenses of the old Federal Hill nursing center on Light Street. The corporation was fined $10,000 and ordered to repay $90,000 to the state.

"We've had a history of problems with her since the 1970s, but we hoped this time it would be a new Sonya Goodman we were dealing with. Evidently, it is not," said Curt Williams, a representative of District 1199E-DC, Service Employees International Union.

The union, which represents about 80 nursing and housekeeping employees at the home, sent the legally required notice to strike effective June 13.

The union won a National Labor Relations Board election in November and began negotiating a contract. But the home has not bargained in good faith, Mr. Williams said, and last Friday Mrs. Goodman told employees they would be permanently replaced if they went on strike.

Mrs. Goodman did not return a telephone call yesterday asking for comment.

She has operated a health-care consulting firm since selling three nursing homes in 1984. A year ago, she reopened the vacant German Home for the Aged as Irvington Knolls Care Center and she is also building a second 140-bed nursing home nearby. The City Council approved a land use bill for the project Tuesday.

Wages, job security and union security are among the major issues to be resolved in contract talks for the Irvington Knolls workers, Mr. Williams said.

The starting wage is from $5 to $5.50 an hour, and the employee turnover rate was 170 percent in the first year, he said.

In 1976, the same union went on strike for six months against the Bolton Hill nursing home owned by Mrs. Goodman in a contract dispute.

In 1978, her Federal Hill nursing center was the first to be hit with a state ban on new admissions because of "life-threatening conditions." Operation of that facility led to the Medicaid fraud charges. As part of the plea bargain, the state agreed not to prosecute Mrs. Goodman or her other two nursing homes.

A health department spokesman said that state licensing of nursing home operators is not based on their past record, but on their current performance.

When the state Health Resources Planning Commission issued a certificate of need for the Irvington Knolls facility, it was explained that Mrs. Goodman had not been convicted of fraud, only her corporation.

Mr. Williams pointed out that the former director of the state health department's Licensing and Certification Administration, Henry E. Schwartz, is now Mrs. Goodman's lawyer.

Two years ago, Mr. Schwartz approved Mrs. Goodman to step in as consultant-administrator of the troubled Dukeland nursing home, which was facing state closure for health and safety deficiencies. Mrs. Goodman was credited with improving conditions at that West Baltimore facility before the owners sold it.

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