HARTFORD, Conn. - Nurses, nursing assistants and elder-care support staff at four skilled nursing homes operated by Spectrum Healthcare went on strike in Ansonia, Derby, Hartford and Winsted, Conn., this week. The workers at the four homes are holding picket lines every day from 6 a.m. to 12 midnight until a settlement is reached. It is the first nursing home strike by the New England 1199 union in seven years.
Labor and community supporters are urged to attend a rally on Saturday, April 24, marking day 10 of the strike. It will be held at 11 a.m. at the Park Place Health Center in Hartford.
The Spectrum Corporation has intimidated, suspended and fired dozens of workers at the four nursing homes over the past year during contract negotiations. The workers are fighting unfair labor practices and the threat of permanent replacements. They have been without a contract since March 2009.
While union workers provide excellent care to their patients, proven by Spectrum's five-star rating, the nursing home chain is one of the most dangerous places to work in the nation. Injuries at Spectrum are twice as frequent as the national average. At the same time, Spectrum is trying to cut light-duty pay for injured workers.
Last month the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) sent letters to 15,000 workplaces nationally that have the highest number of employee injuries and illnesses among all U.S. workplaces. All four of the Spectrum nursing homes were on that list. For the workers this has meant days away from work, restricted work activities, and job transfers.
Referring to Spectrum's poor health and safety record, District 1199 Vice President Almena Thompson said, "Yet they want to slash pay for workers injured on the job to $10 per hour if the nature of the injuries require lighter-duty work."
Despite the efforts of a federal mediator to find a resolution to the contract dispute, Spectrum, based in Vernon, Conn., made virtually no movement on the key issues in negotiations, which were attended by more than 100 members from all four of the affected fatalities. The union's negotiating committee offered to meet all day and through the night, but the company's attorney refused the offer.
Thompson pointed out, "Operators of 32 other nursing homes covering almost 4,000 long-term care workers in Connecticut agreed to contracts that skipped raises in 2009 but included a 2.5 percent wage increase this year. Spectrum is demanding that their employees go without any wage increases until July 2011- more then two and a half years."
"Then Spectrum threatens to hire permanent replacements as workers exercise their legal right to strike. If the other operators can come to terms, why can't Spectrum?" she asked.
Thompson said the union has filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board regarding the company's firing of dozens of workers and intimidation of others since the contract expired.
The union has begun a TV campaign focused on Spectrum. The first ad can be seen at the union's website: http://www.seiu1199ne.org/
The four nursing homes are: Birmingham Health Center in Derby, Hilltop Health Center in Ansonia, Laurel Hill Healthcare in Winsted, and Park Place Health Center in Hartford.
Photo: PW/Tom Connolly