Workers Go on Strike at Long Ridge Nursing Home
By Martin B. Cassidy and Amanda Cuda
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
STAMFORD -- Unionized workers at
Long Ridge of Stamford picketed in the driveway at the
facility Tuesday, the first day of a strike there and
four other nursing homes to protest unfair labor
practices by the home's operator during contract
Lucrece Jean, 52, a registered nurse from Stamford,
said that the workers have been pressured by New
Jersey-based HealthBridge Management which operates the
home to accept concessions; including to pay health
care premiums for the first time.
In her case, Jean said the requested premiums would
cost her about $600 a month to provide coverage to her
family, Jean said.
The New Jersey-based HealthBridge Management imposed
the concessions they wanted on workers when
negotiations stalled, Jean said, cutting the length of
the work week from 40 hours to 37.5 hours, and
transitioning from an employer funded pension fund to a
401(k) plan, she said.
Statewide, about 700 workers from five HealthBridge
facilities hit the picket line, mainly in opposition to
a "last, best and final" contract imposed on the
company's union workers in late June. The strike is the
latest installment in a lengthy battle that has waged
for more than a year between HealthBridge officials and
the union that represents many of its workers, New
England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199. The
two parties were never able to agree on a contract
after 17 months of negotiations, leading HealthBridge
to implement the "last, best and final" agreement --
which the union argues the company did illegally.
Shortly before workers hit the picket lines, they were
informed by HealthBridge the company intends to
permanently replace the strikers, which HealthBridge
officials said is the company's right.
"This is about not just what they are asking for but
the fact that they are not negotiating in good faith,"
Workers for the New England Healthcare Workers Union
District 1199 marched back and forth in a circle along
Long Ridge Road chanting slogans like, "No Justice, No
Peace," while banging cymbals and snare drums and
shouting into a megaphone.
One of six security guards posted on the property
filmed the picket line proceedings using a hand-held
camcorder and the men also screened motorists coming
onto the property, barring all but authorized
replacement personnel and those visiting patients.
In addition to Long Ridge, the HealthBridge nursing
homes on strike are West River in Milford, Danbury
Health Care Center, Newington Health Care Center and
Westport Health Care.
The last strike involving multiple nursing facilities
took place in 2010, when staff at four facilities owned
by Connecticut-based company Spectrum Healthcare went
on strike, according the state Department of Public
Health. Employees at those facilities -- Park Place
Health Center in Hartford, Hilltop Health Center in
Ansonia, Birmingham Health Center in Derby and Laurel
Hill Health Care in Winsted -- were on strike from
April 2010 to May 2011.
Union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said the
HealthBridge workers know that this strike could drag
on for a while. "They understand that this is a very
serious thing they're undertaking," she said.
In a statement issued Tuesday, HealthBridge
representatives said they "regret that the Union has
chosen to take this action, but the affiliated Health
Care Centers are open and are fully prepared to provide
excellent health care throughout a strike of any
duration ... It is too bad that the Union would choose
to try to cause harm to the affiliated Health Care
Centers and the employees who work there by calling a
strike rather than negotiate a fair and realistic
contract through good bargaining."
HealthBridge has said that under the conditions it
imposed, most union workers at its facilities would
receive raises totaling 9 percent in the first year and
17 percent over the next six years. But the union
argues that the company is also taking away a lot from
employees, including pension contributions and vacation
time, and is requiring workers to start paying a
portion of their medical, prescription drug and other
health insurance costs.
State Rep. Patricia Billie Miller, D-Stamford, walked
the picket line with workers Tuesday and said she was
taking part in hopes of prompting the home's operator
and the workers to resume negotiations.
Miller, whose 83-year-old father is being treated at
the home, said that she was concerned about the impact
the absence of the long-term workers would have on
"I know that these workers care about the patients and
I've witnessed that firsthand," Miller said. "I don't
know if the workers who are brought in will have the
Sonia Carlson, 41, a registered nurse who has worked at
the home since 1994 said the contract concessions
requested by HealthBridge will make it difficult for
her family to cover the basic needs of her family.
Within a few years, both her teenage children will be
in college, Carlson said.
"This is not good for families at all," Carlson said.
"They are taking away hours, vacation, and holidays and
basically asking me to start at zero after 18 years."
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