HARTFORD, Conn. - A week after nearly 700 nurses, nurse assistants and laundry, dietary and housekeeping staff began walking the picket lines at five HealthBridge nursing homes in a strike over unfair labor practices, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman came out to join them.
The National Labor Relations Board issued a citation against the New Jersey based company when it unlawfully ended contract negotiations and unilaterally implemented its "last, best and final" offer.
The workers, members of 1199 New England, would each lose, on average, about $8,000 a year for six years through cuts in hours, increased health insurance premiums to more than $8,000 per year for many workers, and an end to retirement security after a lifetime of challenging and backbreaking work.
Malloy told the workers that the company is trying to set a new model of union busting in Connecticut and "we don't want them to be that model."
"Day after day for the last 16 years, I have worked to provide the best care possible to my residents," said Eva Fal, an 1199 union member at Newington Health Care Center, where the governor joined the picket line. "I have never seen owners as profit-hungry as the owners of HealthBridge. They make millions and millions of dollars in profits each year - but they have the nerve to say that our pay and benefits aren't 'realistic'?" she exclaimed.
HealthBridge reported annual profits of $45.4 million in 2010. In addition, that year HealthBridge paid $234 million to subsidiaries and related companies of owners Daniel and Moshael Straus.
The union negotiated contracts with 50 other nursing homes in the state over the past two years with no problems. Only HealthBridge chose to try and force the 1199 caregivers out.
"These types of tactics are unacceptable," said Malloy in a prepared statement. "They negatively impact the lives of the residents who live in these nursing homes and the residents' families because the continuum of care gets interrupted."
Family members of residents are also speaking out in support of the unionized workers, urging that good faith negotiations resume. State Rep. Patricia Billie Miller, D-Stamford walked the picket line in Stamford where her 83 year old father is being treated. She told the media, "I know that these workers care about the patients and I've witnessed that firsthand. I don't know if the workers who are brought in will have the same relationship."
In a 14-page decision, the NLRB said HealthBridge "failed and refused to bargain in good faith with the union." This is the fifth complaint against the company. A trial will be held on September 10.
"By their outrageous, inhumane and unlawful actions, HealthBridge has given workers no other alternative," said 1199 President David Pickus. "This for-profit, out-of-state corporation has demonstrated absolute contempt for the law, for their employees and for the nursing home residents who depend on them for care. But our members have declared loudly that they intend to defend themselves and their communities," he said.
"One-percenters like the Straus brothers rake in millions each year off the backs of their caregivers and the Connecticut taxpayers who fund the Medicaid and Medicare programs they have used to make themselves rich. It's time for HealthBridge to get out of our state and let a more caring and responsible operator run these homes in a way that promotes the well-being of caregivers and residents-not the Straus brothers," Pickus concluded.
The company announced the massive concessions by sending an email at 11 pm on Saturday, June 16 informing 1199 that the implementation would begin on Sunday morning.
The nursing homes are Danbury Health Care Center, Long Ridge of Stamford, Newington Health Care Center, West River Health Care Center in Milford and Westport Health Care Center. Earlier this month, the State of Connecticut gave HealthBridge permission to close Wethersfield Health Care Center, which is part of the NLRB case.
Four previous NLRB complaints cited bad-faith bargaining and other illegal behavior by HealthBridge.
The company locked out workers at their Milford facility last Christmas. The workers were called back to their regular shifts and positions four months later, as a result of increasing pressure from residents, family members, community members and elected officials and citations from the Connecticut Department of Public Health and NLRB.
HealthBridge operates nine facilities in Connecticut, with dozens more under the HealthBridge and CareOne names in Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.