Last September, Crain’s New York Business reported that Rozenberg, who’s been involved in long-term care for more than 20 years, had been “on a buying spree.” From St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers he had purchased the Bishop Francis J. Mugavero Center for Geriatric Care and St. Jerome’s Health Services Corp., and he had just bought the Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Center in Brooklyn for $60 million. Crain’s also reported that he intended to lay off 506 employees from the geriatric center, all members of the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers. The geriatric center is a 354-bed facility, without an adult day-care center, on little more than an acre. By contrast, Foley has 264 beds, 14 acres and adult day-care.
To the Suffolk legislators, Rozenberg said, “We have worked with the union in the most difficult of situations, and found that if we reach out to the staff and their union in a non-confrontational manner with a promise that they will try to understand our position and we theirs, the resolution of any issue is sure to be quick and fair. Note that I did not say painless, but I did say fair, fair to both sides.”
Directly affected by the outcome is Linda Ogno, the beleaguered head of the Suffolk County AME local unit for the Foley nursing facililty workers. “I’m not saying that Mr. Rozenberg is not going to do a great job, but he’s doing it for a profit,” she tells the Press. Her concern is how many workers Rozenberg will keep at the facility. His answer to the legislature last summer was unclear on that point.
Her union president, Cheryl Felice, had written Bill Lindsay (D-Holbrook), the legislature’s presiding officer, in 2008, to express “her sincerest thanks for your steadfast commitment in the fight” to keep the facility owned and operated by the county. But the Suffolk County AME did not join the lawsuit in December, and in fact argued against it.
“Our view is that the lawsuit prevents the discussion from going forward,” Felice tells the Press. “The simple fact remains that the legislature did not have enough votes to override the veto [of the funding for Foley]. It would be foolish of the union to sue the very body of government that we later have to go to for funding for a variety of issues, including the contract.”
She says the lawsuit will only lead to “more litigation and more money and waste of resources…. I believe that in the end our solution is going to keep more people working than this lawsuit.”
A source inside the legislature, who didn’t want to go on the record, took a more jaundiced view.
“A long time ago the union president gave up on the facility. And rather than fighting to keep that open and keep the jobs there, she went behind closed doors and cut a deal with the county executive. She was going to make sure her loyal people got transferred to other jobs. In the meantime she’s telling everyone that she’s going to have jobs for everybody, which isn’t true. The labor relations people, the civil service, are on the record saying there won’t be jobs for everyone, it’s just not possible. Rather than going to court, she basically said, ‘All right, it’s going to happen.’”
Felice sees it differently.
“There was no funding for the facility in the adopted budget,” she says. “Our mission is to save jobs.” She believes the concessions she’s won from the county executive give the workers at the nursing home a better chance to keep their jobs under new management. Or, they could be placed somewhere else in Suffolk in similar pay categories or get some separation pay.
Felice says that she understands the Foley workers’ frustration.
“People who are public employees—we’re at our jobs longer than we are with our families,” she explains. “I understand their hurt and frustration.”
Felice, who’s been SCAME president eight years, vehemently defended her actions. “Those naysayers don’t believe in the union,” she says. “They’ve worked against my administration every year that I’m here. And it’s unfortunate that they’re risking the security of other people in their quest to try to discredit me and our union.”