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Union contract ends at Care Center

| April 23, 2004 12:00 AM

The contract between the United Healthcare Workers Local Union 427 and Centennial Healthcare Corporation of Atlanta, Ga., the owner of the Libby Care Center, expired on Wednesday.

A press release from the union said that since Feb. 3, numerous requests by Centennial for extensions have been honored.

³The union will decline any future requests to extend the contract,² said Jacquie Helt, union lead negotiator.

Helt said the Atlanta-based corporation needs to place Libby Care Center employees as top priority and return to the negotiating table.

³The union committee has been ready and willing every step of the way and it¹s now up to the company to negotiate a fair contract,² Helt added.

The expiration of the current contract allows union members the option to strike.

³A strike is an option union members don¹t take lightly,² Helt said. ³However, it¹s an option the members are not afraid to use to get the economic respect and communication they deserve from this company.²

Officials for Centennial Healthcare were unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

At a candlelight vigil held at Libby in March for Libby Care Center employee supporters, longtime LCC employee and union steward Doreen Smook said the nursing home has been understaffed.

Care center administrator Debbie Mershon pointed to the state¹s assessments of the facility the past few years as a response to the union allegations.

³The state has found us to be adequately staffed based on their criteria, and that is apparent in the quality of care we offer residents,² Mershon said.

In Montana, the state is responsible for determining whether a facility maintains adequate staffing. The Libby Care Center received a ³deficiency free² rating in 2002 and a near-perfect rating the following year.