Spectrum nursing home workers mark year on strike

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HARTFORD, Conn. - Hundreds of representatives from labor and community organizations poured out last Saturday in support of Spectrum Health nursing home workers. The demonstration marked the one-year anniversary of their unfair labor practice strike.

The "Justice for Spectrum Workers" rally was held at Park Place Health Center in Hartford, one of four nursing homes owned by Spectrum Health Care involved in the dispute.

Labor and community participation has been critical for the nearly 400 workers, represented by SEIU Local 1199, who have faced firings, harassment, bad faith bargaining and permanent replacements. "This fight isn't just about us," said Carmen Hamlen a CNA at the Birmingham Spectrum facility in Derby. "All over the country workers' basic rights are under attack. I think that our fight for a decent living standard is an example to everyone else who faces the same assaults."

Nurses, nursing assistants and support staff have stood firm for a fair contract against an employer who flouts the law. Spectrum has been fined for record safety violations, and the company is currently on trial before a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge for a host of alleged unfair labor practices, including illegal terminations or suspensions of workers and bad faith bargaining.

When nearly 400 caregivers went out on strike on April 15, 2010, they had been working without a contract for months while trying to negotiate fair wages and benefits. The company proposal included language that would punish injuries by demoting workers to a lower pay grade upon their return to work.

Defying labor law, the company immediately declared that all workers were permanently replaced. Five months later, when the NLRB issued a federal complaint, the company began recalling workers. They have recalled 163 of 400, but at shorter hours. Many workers chose to remain on the picket line during the unfair labor practice hearings.

Among many solidarity actions during this year, family members of residents at the four nursing homes set up a website to support the striking workers. They exposed the fact that care has been shockingly poor without the unionized care givers on the job.

In June, a public hearing before the Human Services and Public Health committees of the state legislature was held to address poor care by replacement workers and confusion about patients' rights. The lawmakers are now considering two bills, HB 6553, concerning documentation of licensing for replacement health care workers during a strike or lockout, and HB 6617, concerning continuity of care in nursing homes.

Family members were among those came out to show support at the rally. Clergy and elected officials came out as well.

"I'm so proud to see how my co-workers are standing together through all the hardships," said April Grey, a CNA from Laurel Hill. "That's why we will win."

The strikers will receive a Solidarity Recognition from the People's World on Sunday, May 1 at the annual May Day Newsmaker Awards event to be held at 4 p.m. at 37 Howe Street in New Haven. Photo by Tom Connolly/PW

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