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Workers at 33 Connecticut nursing homes prepared to strike beginning May 14 as they fight for better wages, health care
Hartford Courant - 5/3/2021
More than 3,000 nursing home workers, who are predominately women of color, are prepared to strike beginning May 14 at 33 facilities across the state after an extensive year of protesting for increased wages, affordable health care and better staffing, the union representing the workers, SEIU 1199NE, announced Friday.
The union whose members include registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants, dietary aides, housekeeping staff and receptionists, has argued that especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the caregivers have been overworked, underpaid and put in danger.
“We have a saying in our union, ‘One day longer than the boss.’ We’re going to go on strike as long as it takes us to win. The choice of going on strike is not an easy one for anybody,” Jesse Martin, vice president for nursing homes for the union, said. “It’s a sacrifice. They’re going to withhold their labor, which means they’re going to lose pay and they’re going to miss the people they love caring about everyday. But our members know and believe in the value of the fact that if [Gov. Ned] Lamont and others wont change the system, someone has to have this fight on behalf of the people who suffered.
“It’s an act of love to go on strike for our residents. They’re sacrificing themselves because they love the people they care for.”
More than 22 nursing home workers in Connecticut lost their lives due to COVID-19, Martin said. And more than 4,500 elderly clients who lived in Connecticut assisted-living facilities died throughout the pandemic, he added, which illustrates how caregivers are valued as well as residents.
“If that system is built on poverty-level wages for the caregivers, that means that system does not value the people [caretakers] care for,” Martin said. “A large majority of nursing home residents, particularly in city, are Black and brown, and we represent a few facilities in Hartford and New Haven where 99% of the residents are on Medicaid. Their poor Medicaid funding is vital to paying workers enough money to come out of poverty. How do we end the cycle towards poverty in our communities? This is one way to end that cycle for thousands of workers in the state of Connecticut and their families.”
The 33 nursing homes received strike notifications Friday. The union said more nursing homes “are expected to join the work stoppage as strike votes continue across other facilities.” They said 51 nursing home union contracts have expired in Connecticut as of March 15.
Of the 33 nursing homes that received notices, 11 were to Icare Health chains.
David Skoczulek, vice president of business development for Icare, said the strike will cost the state of Connecticut nearly “$2 million on the first day of the strike to fund replacement workers and other strike costs at iCare Health Network nursing homes. A long-term strike will cost the State nearly $360,000 per day following the initial week.”
“We are hopeful that the Connecticut legislature and other officials are able to resolve this crisis so that our valued residents will receive continuity of care from their long-time caregivers,” he added. “It can be extremely upsetting to elderly and disabled individuals when they go any period of time without seeing their regular caregivers. These individuals have already felt the impact of a virus that has unforgivingly targeted the long-term-care population. They deserve movement towards normalcy and the hope of a strengthened industry and profession.
Matthew Barrett, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities/Connecticut Center for Assisted Living, also said it’s important for the employees and union to “stay at the bargaining table” as a strike would put “home residents in harm’s way.”
“It was a major undertaking for nursing homes to assure caregiving for their frail and elderly residents by contracting for replacement staffing, especially during a public health emergency,” Barrett said, in a news release. “Abruptly changing ongoing caregivers with replacement workers [is] stressful for nursing home residents and can lead to health care issues. ... The trauma will be even more severe this year as it follows the emotional toll that pandemic-related visitor restrictions have taken on nursing home residents.”
He added that nursing homes are “forecasting cash shortages.”
“A major investment in nursing homes is needed now bridge to the other side of the pandemic, and even more resources are needed to address collective bargaining issues,” Barrett said. “It is simply unreasonable and unrealistic to expect nursing home operators to enter into costly multiyear increased funding commitments to address collective bargaining issues without the resources needed to pay for those increased costs.”
The union has demanded the enactment of what they call the Long-term Care Workers Bill of Rights that would provide a pathway toward at least $20 per hour pay, affordable health care and retirement benefits alongside increased staffing.
Certified nursing assistants in Connecticut make an average of $14 an hour, meanwhile nursing home housekeepers, dietary staff and laundry workers, who Martin called the “backbone of infection control,” make no more than $12 or $13 an hour, he said.
“Could you imagine being in charge of cleaning a nursing home to make sure that COVID doesn’t spread and only bring home $12 an hour?” Martin said. “The long-term care system, the accountability system, the funding system is broken. Our members, thousands of which contracted this disease because they were asked to do work with COVID positive residents without the proper protective gear for months, even up until this year, a year after the pandemic started.”
The strike will affect nursing homes operated by Genesis, RegalCare, Icare and Autumn Lake. In the Greater Hartford area, some of those homes include:
Jessika Harkay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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