A staffing crisis at Mount View Health Facility is forcing employees to work double shifts, according to union president Edward McDonald.

Niagara County’s top appointed official tells a different story, saying the problem is “excessive” use of sick time by Mount View employees, specifically certified nurse aides, that began when the sale of the nursing home to a private company was finalized.

In a war of words, County Manager Gregory Lewis blamed the union, saying too many employees are calling in sick and are out on workers’ compensation, while McDonald said the county needs to hire more workers, because even before anyone calls in sick, the shifts aren’t covered properly.

As in many union-management disagreements, each side is claiming different things while the facts appear murky.

However, both sides agree on the following points:

n Mount View’s employee roster includes five vacant certified nurse aide positions, which the county is trying to fill.

n The union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, refuses to allow the county to hire temporary workers to fill the vacant shifts.

McDonald said the jobs at Mount View are protected union work and the county can’t hire non-union temporary employees because they haven’t hired enough permanent employees.

McDonald said a schedule goes up every month, which contains numerous shifts that aren’t covered, all before anyone calls in sick. He said the practice of mandating that employees work double shifts should be used during emergencies, “not a self-inflicted emergency.”

“The county is wearing these people down,” McDonald said. “They can’t do this day in and day out.”

In response to an inquiry as to how many shifts aren’t covered at the beginning of the month, Lewis didn’t provide a figure but issued this response: “Summer is a natural time for vacation. People go on vacation and people have opportunity to pick up work. The fact that schedules are posted for people to sign up to work has no relationship with the problem of excessive use of sick leave by employees where values and leadership are not present that would say to oneself that such excessive use of sick leave is wrong.”

When no one picks up the uncovered shifts, whoever is working the prior shift is mandated to work a double — 16 hours in a row, McDonald said.

AFSCME employees earn time and a half for overtime work, but McDonald said that’s not the issue. He said his members are exhausted and are afraid of making mistakes or losing their license from working so much.

McDonald said the forced overtime could prompt some of his members to call in sick, either because they’ve worked so much or because they know they’ll be mandated to stay, but said overuse of sick time isn’t the problem because if employees are absent more than five days in a six-month period without a doctor’s note, disciplinary action by Mount View’s management can be taken.

The county and the union said they are working toward a solution.

Niagara County agreed to sell Mount View to Senior Associates, a firm based in Williamsville, for $2.4 million in June, a move bitterly opposed by unions that represent the nursing home workers.

Under the purchase contract, which will take at least the next year to execute, all union agreements are canceled.

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