Arden House workers win great contract

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Workers at Arden House nursing home here unanimously ratified a “great contract” Aug. 16 morning after being locked out for two weeks. They won substantial increases in wages and benefits as a result of workers’ solidarity and support from family, elected officials and other unions.

“They can lock your body out of that place, but they cannot lock justice out of that place,” Unite Here leader John Wilhelm told the workers at a solidarity rally on day 10 of their lockout. The 260 members of District 1199 New England Healthcare Workers Union had been in difficult negotiations with Arden House for months. Their contract expired June 30.

The new contract includes wage increases of $2.40 over four years, lower employee costs for health insurance, protection against subcontracting and other improvements.

Arden House is the state’s second largest nursing home. The owner, Boston-based Harborside Healthcare, owns 45 nursing home facilities in the U.S. All its other facilities had settled their contracts earlier. In 1998 Harborside was acquired by Investcorp International, a multinational corporation based in Bahrain.

The Arden House workers had voted to strike Aug. 1 if there was no agreement. The last week in July management put up fences and began preparations to bring in replacement workers. The union suspended the strike notice in hopes of reaching an agreement. Instead, the company locked out the workers.

When union members hit the picket lines at 6 a.m. Aug. 1, replacement workers had already arrived in taxis and vans driven by hired security personnel. Arden House issued a statement claiming the company had made an “exceptional and generous offer” and “had no choice but to spend more than $200,000 preparing for the strike.”

Union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff replied, “We have people in their 60s and 70s who can’t afford to retire. Workers can’t afford to contribute anything to the 401(k) plan. People live from paycheck to paycheck.”

Chernoff said the company told the workers they were being locked out until further notice, “but we don’t know when that further notice will come.” A federal mediator was contacted to set up talks.

Labor, community and clergy members and elected officials arrived daily to support the picketing workers. Sandy Rosen and others with relatives at the home called for Arden House to end the lockout.

“Our family members know the loving care they receive from these workers who take the extra steps to make them comfortable,” said Rosen. “This is non-replaceable.”

Locked-out dietary aide Dina Gennette also challenged company claims that the replacement workers were maintaining adequate care for residents. Gennette’s aunt Mary Bellanoio is a resident. Escorted by security, Gennette picked up her aunt’s laundry after her picket duties ended. She said her aunt was upset with the situation, but supported the workers for standing up for what’s right.