Union vote on Foley home deal rescheduled

John J. Foley Nursing home in Yaphank. (April John J. Foley Nursing home in Yaphank. (April 9, 2013) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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The union for Suffolk nursing home workers has rescheduled a key vote on the facility's future for Friday as County Executive Steve Bellone pushes to lease the Yaphank home to private operators.

Bellone and the Association of Municipal Employees have reached a deal that would allow the county to lease the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility while guaranteeing its 180 employees their county wages and benefits for 18 months.

The first vote on the deal, in which the union would drop its lawsuit to block privatization, was canceled April 9 after a dispute between the union and two county legislators who also are plaintiffs.

"We'd like to do this as expeditiously as possible," said AME executive vice president Michael Finland. "The members have been in limbo."

Finland said the vote will be conducted at Foley between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. A majority vote is required for approval.

AME initially said it wanted all plaintiffs, including Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), to stipulate in advance of the union vote that they also would drop their legal action. Browning and Kennedy have said they want to see results from the union vote before deciding -- and the union agreed Monday to go along with the demand.

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"We're moving forward with the up-or-down vote," Finland said. "After that point we'll see their [Browning's and Kennedy's] mindset."

If the suit is dropped, the county legislature could vote Tuesday on a lease with Israel and Samuel Sherman. The suit has blocked Bellone's efforts to sell Foley for $23 million, so he has moved to close the 264-bed facility, which he says costs $1 million a month.

Privatization opponents say Suffolk could run Foley without losses if it improved efficiency and filled all beds. But patients continue to leave -- the count has fallen from 195 to 167 since New York State approved a closure plan last month -- and Bellone sees the lease as a compromise.

"As we continue to lose patients through the closure process, we increase the chances that even this one option will be lost," Bellone wrote to Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook). "There is a rapidly closing window."

Bellone's letter Tuesday said that for an agreement to be reached, sale opponents must promise not to challenge the proposed lease, causing Browning and Kennedy to bristle. "Last time I checked this was a democracy," Browning said. "If this lease is legal, it should be able to withstand the light of day."

Foley workers also have expressed concern that the deal could give the Shermans leeway in the wage guarantee. Some workers also said they'd have no protection in case of breach of contract. Finland said the AME will adjust the deal's language to cement the wage guarantee, and give workers "assurances" that they'd have recourse if the Shermans violate the contract.

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