Several employees of Morris Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center were so upset at what they said has been a continuing payroll problem that an emergency union meeting was called Thursday afternoon.
About 25 employees of the new nursing home on Edgewood Drive gathered off hours at a neighborhood restaurant to update AFSCME Local 3903 union representative Kathy Steichen on what they called “a very serious matter.”
According to those employees present, who did not wish their names to be made public, the most recent problem occurred Thursday morning, when several area banks and businesses were refusing to cash their bi-weekly paychecks. Some said they were able to deposit the checks, but were told they could not draw on the funds for several days.
That’s not the first time they’ve experienced problems with payroll checks, though, most said.
“There have been a few incidences this year,” Steichen said, “and I think one last summer.”
Steichen explained that the problem this week could have been due to Prism Healthcare Group, the corporation that owns the nursing home, switching banks from First Chicago to First Midwest.
According to a letter recently received by staff and confirmed by Steichen and Prism’s CEO Lewis Borsellino, Prism’s previous bank from which payroll was issued was First Chicago Bank & Trust, which was closed on July 8 by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and placed in the hands of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
It was thought, Steichen said, that this week’s payroll checks were to be issued through a new, local bank.
Two area banks called Thursday said they could not confirm if they were denying cashing payroll checks from the nursing home due to privacy laws.
“That’s wage theft for them not paying for your services,” Steichen said of the nursing home. “You are having your wages stolen from you. . . State law requires you get paid for the work you do. . . If we work together, we can make these changes happen.”
One employee told those gathered she walked off the job Thursday morning after she could not cash her paycheck. It was the last straw, she said.
Another said she had heard three different reasons for why there were problems with three separate paychecks.
“First they blamed FedEx,” she said, “then it was the bank being closed, and this week they’re blaming Medicare.”
“I do know that for the last few months, it’s been an issue,” president of Local 3903 Renae Chronister said after Thursday’s meeting. “The way I understood it, the old bank they were using was kicking back the checks, or something. . . From what I’ve heard, the home didn’t correct the problem.”
“When it was county, we never had a problem,” said a staffer who had worked for the nursing home when it was the Grundy County Home. Prism rented and operated the former county home facility until it moved to the newly built Edgewood Drive facility.
“This is privatization gone bad,” Steichen said. “Since this place got privatized, there is no end to the problems.”
Prism Healthcare Group CEO and President Lewis Borsellino said there should be no more problems with the Morris employees cashing their checks and that he was not aware that there was a problem until late Thursday.
“That happened last week,” he said of the payroll predicament. “In fact, we moved our payroll to a local Morris bank. . . The checks are one hundred percent good. It has nothing to do with us. . . There is no problem financially with Prism.”
Borsellino said it could be local bank policy not to cash the checks, but that doesn’t have anything to do with Prism. If the employees deposit their checks, he said, they will find they are perfectly good.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” one employee said at the meeting. “We’re all suffering.”
Several said they live paycheck to paycheck and were planning on using Thursday’s check for such expenses as gas, groceries, electricity bills, and rent.
Problems with working conditions were also aired at the meeting. Several complained of not having enough supplies to bathe patients, being mandated too much, being short-staffed, and being assigned to so many areas of the center that they can’t properly get to know their patients, or their patients them.
“Everybody’s stressed,” one said.
“Everything we do in Morris is in perfect alignment with the union contract,” Borsellino said on the phone Thursday. “Mandation is part of the contract. . . The problem is people calling off sick or because they don’t want to work. Mandation is the only way to ensure we have proper coverage for the residents.”
Borsellino took exception to the allegations of a shortage of supplies.
“That’s not an accurate statement,” he said of employees saying there were shortages of linens and bedpans. “There is a proper procedure for going to get supplies.”
Borsellino said he believes the problem is that some of the staff hide supplies from others, then it appears the center is short on those items.