Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

Two weeks in, Cedar Haven strikers are prepared for Christmas

Source: Daniel Walmer, Lebanon Daily News, November 3, 2017

A labor dispute at Cedar Haven shows no signs of abating two weeks after nurses went on strike. If you need proof, consider this: AFSCME Local 2732 President Penny Kleinfelter has placed an artificial Christmas tree along the Fifth Avenue picket line in preparation for the holiday season. Kleinfelter said she isn’t trying to send a message – she’s just decorating, since she usually puts up her Christmas tree at home at the beginning of November. But she hopes Cedar Haven ownership understands the strikers are “in it for the long haul.” … Some union members have applied for unemployment compensation, and the union is defending their claim on the basis that they went on strike to protest an unfair labor practice, said AFSCME council director Steve Mullen. The union has maintained that owner Stone Barn Holdings bargained in bad faith by implementing a new contract even though it was voted down by union members and while negotiations were still ongoing. …

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No end in sight as rally marks one week of Cedar Haven strike
Source: Daniel Walmer, Lebanon Daily News, October 27, 2017

Employees from other local unions joined Cedar Haven employees Friday for a rally to mark one week since the beginning of a nurses strike that has no sign of ending soon. Steve Mullen, council director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said there has been not yet been any movement by Cedar Haven ownership that would lead to a conclusion of the strike. “We reached out to them and asked them if they wanted to sit down and talk with us, and they said only if we’re willing to take (the contract) they’ve already given us,” Mullen said. Hundreds of protesters lined both sides of 5th Avenue at noon Friday, chanting “because we care,” and encouraging cars to honk their horns in solidarity. The rally featured heavy hitters like Elissa McBride, international secretary-treasurer of AFSCME, and Rick Bloomingdale, president of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO. …

“It sucks in there”: Residents on conditions at Cedar Haven as strike continues
Source: Daniel Walmer, WITF, October 25, 2017

Cedar Haven residents expressed frustration Wednesday with the quality of care they are receiving as the nurses strike at the facility entered its sixth day. Marion Weiant has never had cause to complain about the quality of nursing care at Cedar Haven – until now, she said. Since the strike began, Weiant, a three-year resident at Cedar Haven, said she is often not properly wiped after being changed, causing her concern about getting sores. Nurses also haven’t gotten her out of bed until 11:30 a.m., more than two hours later than normal, she said. … The nursing home is currently being staffed with nurses from U.S. Nursing Corporation. Richard Boyer, another resident, said the temporary nurses “seem nice enough,” but “it’s not the same as the regular crew.” … The three residents were holding signs while attending the picket line in support of the nurses Wednesday afternoon. The nurses are protesting a contract implemented by Cedar Haven owner Stone Barn Holdings that reduces paid time off and substantially increases employee contributions to their health insurance. … To this point, Cedar Haven owner Chas Blalack has not agreed to sit down for additional negotiations, so the strike is expected to continue, said Steve Mullen, council director for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. …

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Following NYC, Philadelphia Pulls Pension Stock in Private Prisons

Source: David Gambacorta, Governing, October 27, 2017
 
The Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement voted Thursday to withdraw its investments in the for-profit prison industry, which has been dogged for years by health and safety problems.  Francis Bielli, the board’s executive director, said the board voted 6-1 in favor of liquidating the $1.2 million worth of stock it held in three companies: the GEO Group, CoreCivic, and G4S. The funds will be routed to other investments over several months.  In August, the Inquirer and Daily News published a report on the perils of the for-profit prison industry, which has been paid billions by the federal government since 1997 to house more than 34,000 inmates every year.  A multi-year study by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that for-profit prisons had higher rates of violence and lockdowns, and provided poorer access to medical care, than government-run prisons. …

Pa. House GOP criticizes liquor sales earnings as price gouging

Source: Katie Meyer, Newsworks, September 28, 2017
 
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has posted this year’s earnings, and they’re higher than ever.  Despite overhead cost increases, the PLCB said the revenues are a sign the industry is healthy.  But House Republicans — who have long wanted to privatize liquor sales — said it just amounts to price gouging.  As lawmakers search under couch cushions for money to balance a stalled state budget, the PLCB’s been chipping in more and more cash. A record-setting $216 million last fiscal year was more than double the previous year’s contribution.  It’s slated to pay a little less this year, but the number is still high. …

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House approves bill to sell state’s liquor wholesale system
Source: Mark Scolforo, Associated Press, April 25, 2017

House Republicans on Tuesday pushed ahead a set of changes to how alcohol is sold in the state, moving to privatize wholesale wine and spirits sales and expand the retail outlets where booze is available. Lawmakers voted 105-84 in favor of the wholesale divestment proposal, sending it with other proposals to the Senate for its consideration. The House voted to allow more grocery stores to seek permits to sell wine, no longer restricting the permits to stores with seating capacity, and retailers would be able to buy wine from brokers in the private sector. …

Pennsylvania Republicans Set Up Push For Liquor Privatization
Source: Katie Meyer, WSKG, April 19, 2017

State House Republicans are attempting to chart a new course for liquor sales in Pennsylvania, pushing a traditionally state-run system further and further toward privatization. The as-yet-unknown revenue from that change is also expected to play a key role in balancing the caucus’s proposed budget.  As of Monday, four different GOP-led proposals are awaiting votes on the House floor.  The House Liquor Control Committee just passed House Bills 975 and 1075. The former would stop Pennsylvania from wine wholesaling, and the latter–which is even broader–would take the commonwealth out of both wine and liquor sales entirely. …

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Veolia’s US growth hopes run into trouble

Source: Luc Olinga, AFP, September 23, 2017

Veolia’s hopes of taking advantage of municipal privatizations and promised Trump administration public works projects to expand its US presence, are being strained by its role in water crises in Flint, Michigan and other cities. … A push by more US local governments to privatize water systems and promises by President Donald Trump of a $1 trillion public infrastructure investment are seen as opportunities to Veolia to expand. … But Veolia’s operations have not been without controversy, especially in Flint, where a lead contaminated water system became a notorious symbol of American social injustice. Veolia issued a study of the city’s water quality before the scandal erupted but did not flag any issues with lead, an issue it says it was told to exclude from the report since city and federal authorities already were looking into it. … Veolia continues to face numerous investigations and class-action lawsuits connected to the crisis. … Veolia also has run into controversy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which also suffered from elevated levels of lead in its water system. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has accused the French company of mismanaging the infrastructure system, including botching a shift in chemicals used in corrosion control. The Pittsburgh authority is in mediation with Veolia, according to two people familiar with the matter, but if that process fails it could result in another protracted court battle. …

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Pittsburgh Tries to Avoid Becoming the Next Flint
Source: Kris Maher, Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2017

As its soot-filled skies cleared, this city built on the steel industry gained a reputation as one of the nation’s most livable places. But it now has another environmental issue to contend with: It is one of several major American cities with lead levels in drinking water above the federal limit.  A total of seven U.S. water systems, which each serve more than 100,000 people, had lead concentrations above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion in recent months, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. They include Portland, Ore., and Providence, R.I., which both exceeded the limit at least one other time in the past five years.  Since the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., cities have been under greater scrutiny from regulators and pressure from residents to reduce lead in drinking water. In most cases, there is no easy fix, and more cities are looking at the costly prospect of replacing vast networks of pipes buried under streets and private property. …

Flint And Pittsburgh Have More In Common Than Lead In Their Water
Source: Donald Cohen, The Huffington Post, March 10, 2017

… Around the same time, the city’s water utility was laying off employees in an effort to cut costs. By the end of the year, half of the staff responsible for testing water throughout the 100,000-customer system was let go. The cuts would prove to be catastrophic. Six months later, lead levels in tap water in thousands of homes soared. The professor who had helped expose Flint, Michigan’s lead crisis took notice, “The levels in Pittsburgh are comparable to those reported in Flint.” The cities also share something else, involvement by the same for-profit water corporation. Pittsburgh’s layoffs happened under the watch of French corporation Veolia, who was hired to help the city’s utility save money. Veolia also oversaw a change to a cheaper chemical additive that likely caused the eventual spike in lead levels. In Flint, Veolia served a similar consulting role and failed to detect high levels of lead in the city’s water, deeming it safe. … On Wednesday, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced the city would provide filters for drinking water, which is the right thing to do. But he’s also considering partnering with another for-profit water company to clean up Veolia’s mess. … For-profit water corporations will always have a financial incentive to cut service, shrug off maintenance, and fire employees. When they’re in charge, the high costs of doing business are passed on to residents: privately owned water systems charge 59 percent more than those that are publicly owned. …

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Possible sale of Berks County’s nursing home raises questions of quality

Source: Nicole C. Brambila and Karen Shuey, Reading Eagle, September 24, 2017
 
While the financial future of county-owned nursing homes might be uncertain, decades of research is fairly clear: a public sale likely means the number of health violations will go up as the quality of resident care goes down. Observed by researchers for roughly two decades, the phenomenon is often the result of the new for-profit owners cutting costs by reducing staff and slashing employee benefits. … These questions loom large as Berks County commissioners are mulling over whether to sell Berks Heim Nursing and Rehabilitation in Bern Township. No decision has been made but the county-owned nursing home faces a projected $3 million deficit. Citing questions of quality and safety, Berks Heim staff and some residents are speaking out against a sale.

… Berks County’s commissioners considered selling Berks Heim two decades ago but opted against it. But then, a public sale in the late 1990s would have been a first in the region. … research also shows that a sale becomes more likely when surrounding counties have divested. Among Berks County’s six contiguous counties, four counties – Lancaster, Lebanon, Montgomery and Schuylkill – have all sold county-owned nursing homes since 2005. Only officials in two – Chester and Lehigh counties – have held onto their county-owned facilities. … Talk of a potential sale has been met with sharp opposition from residents and staff. … Divesting a county-owned home then will likely disproportionately impact the poor. … And Harrington, a nationally respected expert on nursing home care, has repeatedly found that for-profit facilities receive more deficiencies than nonprofit or government-owned nursing homes. Comparing the 10 largest chains in the U.S. to government-owned facilities, Harrington found in a 2012 study that serious deficiencies in chains were 41 percent higher. A significant reason for the care discrepancy is staffing levels, typically reduced under new ownership to control costs. …

Pennsylvania municipalities and utilities benefit from privatization, says Moody’s

Source: Paul Burton, Bond Buyer, August 15, 2017 (subscription required)
 
Pennsylvania municipalities and regulated investor-owned utilities will benefit from legislation removing hurdles for local governments to sell water and wastewater systems, Moody’s Investors Service said.  Moody’s in a report Tuesday projected more privatizations. Municipalities within the commonwealth Pennsylvania see utility sales as a way to cope with financial distress and sidestep maintenance and compliance costs.  The report examined the $195 million sale of the Scranton wastewater system and the pending $162 million sale of the McKeesport wastewater system outside Pittsburgh to the Pennsylvania-American Water Company. Regulators must still approve the latter. …

Berks County considering privatizing its prison

Source: Ben Allen, WITF, July 13, 2017
 
A midstate county may need a new prison soon, and one of its leaders is considering working with a private operator. Berks County Commissioner Mark Scott says he’s been talking with one of the major players… A new prison could cost more than $100 million. But Commissioner Mark Scott says working with a private prison company could cut those costs and speed up the construction process. …

Pottstown, Phoenixville schools eye tax cost of hospital sale

Source: Evan Brandt, The Mercury, June 16, 2017

… The potential sale of Pottstown and Phoenixville hospitals to a nonprofit company is being viewed with foreboding by business officials in school districts that stand to lose millions in property tax revenues. Officials at both Pottstown and Phoenxiville school districts said the respective hospitals in each borough are their largest property taxpayer. And each said that if the sale of the two hospitals — now owned by the Tennessee-based for-profit Community Health Systems — to the nonprofit Reading Health Systems goes through, they stand to lose as much as $900,000 a year or more in tax revenues. …

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CHS agrees to sell 5 more hospitals in Pennsylvania
Source: Dave Barkholz, Modern Healthcare, May 30, 2017

Struggling Community Health Systems has agreed to sell five hospitals in Pennsylvania to the not-for-profit Reading Health System.  The five hospitals are part of the 30 hospitals that Franklin, Tenn.-based CHS has agreed to sell to reduce a $15 billion debt burden. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.  They are169-bed Brandywine Hospital in Coatesville, 148-bed Chestnut Hill Hospital in Philadelphia, 63-bed Jennersville Hospital in West Grove, 151-bed Phoenixville Hospital in Phoenixville and 232-bed Pottstown Memorial Medical Center in Pottstown. …

State Contractor Accused of Denying Overtime Pay to Thousands of Pennsylvania Home Care Workers

Source: Business Wire, May 12, 2017
 
A major state contractor has been accused of systematically failing to pay overtime wages to thousands of home care workers in Pennsylvania in a lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court. The suit alleges Public Partnerships, LLC, a subsidiary of the nationwide management consulting firm Public Consulting Group, knowingly refused to pay workers for overtime despite its active role in hiring employees, administering services and issuing paychecks, a violation of federal and state laws governing wages and labor conditions. The issues raised in the case mirror those at the forefront of ongoing litigation throughout the country on joint employers and their responsibilities to their workers. …

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Performance Audit: Department of Public Welfare’s Oversight of Financial Management Services providers
Source: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of the Auditor General, November 2013

From the press release:
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said an audit of a Department of Public Welfare shows long-term mismanagement of home care worker payroll providers caused undue financial and emotional strain on tens of thousands of people. Thousands of workers had paychecks delayed for up to four months. … Beginning in December 2008, DPW had agreements with 36 different providers for payroll services of home care workers across the state. However, from 2009 through 2012, auditors found that DPW did not adequately monitor these providers resulting in numerous instances of noncompliance with applicable state and federal laws, regulations, and financial services standards by some of the providers. … DPW issued a request for applications in January 2012, and in August 2012 selected the Boston, Mass.-based vendor, Public Partnerships Limited, to provide payroll service statewide. In the short time frame that DPW had to transition 20,000 care recipient files to Public Partnerships Limited, DPW ignored many red flags — including concerns expressed by the vendor — that the new vendor was not fully prepared to pay all direct care workers by the DPW-imposed Jan. 1, 2013 deadline. The audit also found significant flaws in the procurement process used to select Public Partnerships Limited. …
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Audit Summary

School district to retain IT department

Source: Joe Cannon, The Sentinel, March 24, 2017

Information technology services will remain in house in the Mifflin County School District following action taken Thursday by the district’s board of directors. Several members of the IT department were present at Thursday’s meeting to urge the board not to outsource IT services to a company that proposed to do so during the board’s February meeting. IT Director Kevin Cunningham and several of his colleagues gave a PowerPoint presentation highlighting the advantages of keeping the department within the district. … Cunningham noted the company proposing to do the service, Questeq, a Coraopolis firm that provides outsourced education technology management services to school districts, alluded to the fact that the in-house department doesn’t have the resources to reach out properly. … Cunningham said outsourcing would allow the district to lose ownership in equipment, personnel decisions and hours worked. …