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Workers at five Connecticut nursing homes plan strike at the end of the month

Nursing home workers and union organizers at New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU headquarters in Hartford announce strike notices at five Connecticut nursing homes. Tues., April 12, 2022.
Nicole Leonard
Connecticut Public Radio
Nursing home workers and union organizers at New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU headquarters in Hartford announce strike notices at five Connecticut nursing homes on April 12, 2022.

More than 400 unionized workers plan to step off the job later this month unless they reach collective bargaining agreements with their employers and resolve what they say are labor violations.

The nursing home workers are members of New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU.

“We’re not being treated fairly,” said Marcia Armstrong, a certified nursing assistant at Bloomfield Health Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation. “And I’m ready to stand in the strike because of unfair practices and promises – promises that they never fulfill.”

Union organizers announced Tuesday that strike notices were delivered April 8 to Bloomfield Health Center and four other nursing home facilities: Hebrew Center for Health and Rehabilitation in West Hartford, Maple View Health and Rehabilitation in Rocky Hill, Avery Heights Senior Living in Hartford and Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center in Windsor.

As of right now, workers are set to strike April 22 beginning at 6 a.m.

Jesse Martin, union vice president of nursing homes and hospitals, said these facilities are among the last holdouts in outstanding contract negotiations that have not been finalized with the union.

“This strike is of a last resort,” he said. “The vast majority of the employers that we represent in nursing homes across the state have reached fair and substantial agreements with our union.”

By fair and substantial, Martin said he means raising minimum wages to $20 an hour for CNAs and $18 an hour for housekeeping staff, offering affordable health insurance plans and improving retirement and pension options.

Contract negotiations are ongoing.

In an email statement, Patrick Gilland, president and CEO of Church Homes Inc., which operates the Avery Heights facility in Hartford, said the organization “values the tireless and compassionate care provided by all our staff in service to the residents of our community,” and will continue to negotiate “in good faith in hopes of reaching a settlement that is fair and equitable to the team members represented by NEHCEU.”

Lara Alatise, the owner and administrator of Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center, called the strike notices troubling.

“The Windsor Health negotiations team has made a number of economically powerful proposals, including a wage increase of 13% over the next four years,” Alatise said in an emailed statement. “This wage proposal, and other similar proposals, demonstrates Windsor Health has been committed to — and will continue to be committed to — the collective bargaining process.”

National Health Associates Inc., which owns the Bloomfield, West Hartford and Rocky Hill facilities, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Nursing home workers also allege that the five facilities committed unfair labor practice violations. The union filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board against all three owners and operators.

Martin said these claims include facility surveillance of union activity and retaliation threats against workers who participated in union activities.

Yvonne Foster, a certified nursing assistant at Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center, said her facility hired unlicensed workers to help fill staffing shortages, as permitted under a pandemic-related executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont.

Foster said the facility promised workers a pathway to CNA licensure.

“However, many of these workers have been employed without being paid for weeks,” she said. “This is morally wrong, and illegal.”

Alatise said Windsor Health rejects allegations that staff have worked for weeks without pay.

“That’s simply not true,” she said. “We hope that despite the threat of a strike, all parties to these negotiations can continue to focus on what truly matters most: our vulnerable patients’ health and well-being.”

The cases with the National Labor Relations Board remain open.

This post has been updated with additional comment.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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