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AFSCME Members Beat Privatization in Pennsylvania

by Clyde Weiss  |  May 18, 2011

Members of AFSCME Local 1435
WINNERS ALL – Employees of Gracedale nursing home, members of AFSCME Local 1435 (District Council 88), prevented the privatization of their nursing home through a ballot initiative that voters approved May 17. Among those pictured are (left to right, front row) DC 88 Dir. Tom Tosti and Local 1435 Pres. Ellen Weiss. (Photo credit: Patricia Bauer)

Members of AFSCME Local 1435 (District Council 88) are cheering a hard-won victory to protect approximately 700 low-income patients of Gracedale nursing home in Nazareth, Penn. Because of their efforts to educate the community, Northampton County voters yesterday overwhelmingly rejected a county ballot measure to privatize the facility.

By a 3-to-1 margin (75 percent), voters prevented the sale of Gracedale for at least five years. “This is a stunning victory for Gracedale employees and AFSCME Local 1435 in Northampton County, who fought battles from the county commissioners in every direction,” said AFSCME Council 13 Exec. Dir. David Fillman, also an International vice president. “Congratulations!”

“I think it’s awesome that we made history in the county and the state, as far as referendums go,” adds Ellen Weiss, a licensed practical nurse who has worked at Gracedale since 1977. Weiss, also president of Local 1435, said the union’s efforts helped the community realize what they would lose if the nursing home was sold to a privateer.

“We went door-to-door and worked phone banks to make everybody aware of what was going on,” she explains. “There was radio too,” plus an article in the Council 13 newsletter (see page 7) describing their victory over two court challenges that would have blocked the ballot measure.

County officials claimed that privatizing the low-income, Medicaid facility would save money. But Weiss says that would have endangered “a lot of people who have no income and no place to go.” The only way a privateer could save money, she explains, is to cut staff (and the care they provide) or the number of residents allowed at the facility.

“Through a lot of hard work and a lot of caring people, we saved 700 (nursing home) residents from destruction,” says Weiss. “But we’re not done yet – we still have a long way to go because they want to make cutbacks” that could hurt the residents, while preventing others from getting the care that Gracedale provides.

Read more about the victory in The Morning Call. To learn why privatization is the wrong solution to solve budget problems, click here.

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