Schenectady County

Conifer Park union OKs walkout

A union representing about 350 workers at Conifer Park has voted to authorize a strike if a contract

A union representing about 350 workers at Conifer Park has voted to authorize a strike if a contract impasse is not settled.

The Communications Workers of America Local 1101 represents housekeepers, cooks, nurses, dietary workers, substance abuse counselors and social workers at the 225-bed substance abuse treatment facility off Glenridge Road.

Gladys Finnigan, staff representative for district CWA, said the contract was set to expire at midnight on Monday but the union has agreed to extend talks through Thursday. However, she said the union and Conifer Park owner Liberty Behavioral Health Management are far apart in terms of pay and health benefits.

“In today’s economy, we’re looking for wages that will help people stay afloat and what the employer is offering right now is less than we’ve seen in years,” she said.

Patrick LaScala, business agent for the CWA Local 1101, said management’s latest offer for people with 15 years of experience or more is 2.5 percent raises for three years, which he termed “ridiculous.”

“How could you live with that?” he said.

In addition, because increased health benefit costs ate up employees’ last raises, LaScala said the union asked the employer to pay a larger share of health insurance premiums. The percentage varies based on seniority, but some employees currently pay 50 percent for a family plan.

Finnigan said the employer pays an increasingly a larger share of the premium based upon the employee’s years of service. The company is looking to freeze those benefits.

Paul Emerich, a maintenance technician, said he pays more than $200 every two weeks for a family plan. He believes that since Conifer employees work in the health care field, they should get better rates.

Talks have been continuing since early May. The union voted last week to authorize a strike.

If the union actually decides to strike, workers will not walk off the job immediately. The union is required to give a 10-day notice.

A representative from Liberty Behavioral Management Corp. declined comment on the issue.

Conifer Park, which is marking its 25th anniversary this year, has treated more than 60,000 people during its existence.

The union also represents another 250 workers at the 139-bed Arms Acres, which is a Liberty-owned facility Arms Acres in Carmel, Putnam County.

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