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Strikes averted at four Connecticut nursing homes but not in Windsor

Nursing home workers and members of New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, SEIU announce they will strike April 22 at five facilities.
Nicole Leonard
Connecticut Public
Union members have been seeking wage increases, more affordable health insurance options, retirement contributions, and better staffing conditions.

Labor strikes at four Connecticut nursing homes that were initially set for Friday morning have been averted, but about 50 workers at a fifth facility in Windsor did go on strike this morning.

Leaders of New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1119, SEIU said they’ve reached tentative contract agreements with the owners of four facilities just before the strike deadline, but negotiations were not successful at Windsor Health and Rehab Center.

“This is the one contract – the one contract – after two-and-a-half years of nurses aides, housekeeping and dietary workers staying with patients who’ve been sick and dying, we still have not been able to get the workers honored,” said Rob Baril, union president, during a call with reporters Thursday.

A request by Connecticut Public for comment from Windsor facility leadership was not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.

The union represents about one of every three nursing home workers in the state. District 1199 will have negotiated new labor agreements for its members at 59 facilities across the state once these four new contracts are finalized.

“We’re not at liberty to speak about the details of the terms, but we’re quite pleased,” Baril said.

The four tentative agreements were made with Church Homes Inc., which operates Avery Heights Senior Living in Hartford, and National Health Associates Inc., the owner of Bloomfield Health Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, Hebrew Center for Health and Rehabilitation in West Hartford, and Maple View Health and Rehabilitation in Rocky Hill.

Most recent contract agreements statewide have involved the use of increased state Medicaid funding that came out ofa deal with Gov. Ned Lamont in May 2021 to avoid a strike by thousands of nursing home workers.

Union members at Windsor Health and Rehab are still seeking wage increases, more affordable health insurance options, retirement contributions, and better staffing conditions in ongoing contract negotiations.

“It’s so hard to watch what we are going through,” said Yvonne Foster, a certified nursing assistant at the Windsor facility. “We are being underpaid, overworked.”

After 21 years at the facility, Foster said she makes a little over $17 an hour, but many of her colleagues are earning less than $15.

“We cannot continue to work like this,” she said. “It’s hard, it’s wrong and it’s tough. This is a difficult job.”

Foster added that the facility, which according to state data had a resident population of 93 people as of April 12, is understaffed. She said in the worst cases, there has been only one certified nursing assistant caring for up to 60 residents during night shifts.

An executive order issued by Lamont during the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily allowed long-term care facilities to hire unlicensed workers for limited types of support care in order to bridge staffing gaps.

However, union members allege that the Windsor facility hired these workers and then did not pay them. In exchange, members claim that facility leaders promised these workers educational benefits or offered to pay for their state licensure tests, but did not always follow through.

The union filed unfair labor practice charges against the Windsor facility, as well as the owners of the other four nursing homes, with the National Labor Relations Board. Those cases are open and pending.

In a previous statement, Windsor Health owner and administrator Lara Alatise denied allegations of unfair labor practices.

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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