The last time Franny Buckley went to the Missoula Food Bank to restock her cupboards, she saw familiar faces. "I ran into two of my coworkers," she says. "It's pretty sad."
Buckley, 40, is a certified nursing assistant at Missoula Health and Rehabilitation Center. She says CNA pay at the 53-bed nursing facility on Rattlesnake Drive has been frozen at $9.30 hourly for nearly five years, despite the hazards of working with residents who can be tough to manage. "I've had fecal matter thrown at me. I've been slapped. I've been spit at. I've been bit...for $9.30 an hour," she says. "We're the ones taking care of these residents."
On Dec. 30, the pay freeze and other grievances prompted Buckley and more than half of the facility's dieticians, housekeepers and patient care assistants to formally ask nursing home administrators to voluntarily recognize their attempts to form a union. Employees that same day also petitioned the National Labor Relations Board, a federal agency that provides the legal framework to conduct union elections.
Health and Rehabilitation employees want to balance the playing field between management and workers by securing collective bargaining rights through membership in Unite Here Local 427, which represents roughly 500 maids, hospitality workers and dishwashers across the state. "We're hoping that the company respects the rights of their employees to a free and unthreatening election," says Unite Here's executive officer and Missoula Area Central Labor Council President Mark Anderlik.
Health and Rehabilitation Administrator Dale E. Polla was hired to oversee the facility six months ago. On Jan. 3, Polla told the Independent that he's still learning the ropes and hadn't yet had time to evaluate the workers' formal requests, so he was not prepared to comment for this article. "I just found out about it this morning," he said.
Buckley says stagnant wages are only one of the workers' grievances. Another stems from the fact that she and her coworkers are sometimes required to work through lunch, yet they're still not paid for the time. "That's especially true for the [patient care assistants], who are required to stay on the facility during their lunch break," she says. "If anybody puts on a call light, they have to get up and go answer."
Health and Rehabilitation staffers aren't asking for a slew of perks, Buckley says. They simply want a living wage and a healthy work environment. As far as she's concerned, they've earned it. "We're the ones keeping that facility afloat."