“The company wants to eliminate the pension for new hires and freeze it for those currently working,” she added. “The company wants to cut back vacation time, sick and personal days, and hire new employees at a lower rate. And they don’t want to pay us for our half-hour lunch. We refuse to accept this.”
One hundred workers were locked out of the nursing home Dec. 13 and have been picketing ever since. Union members were working under a contract that expired in March. Three days after the lockout began, HealthBridge Management, which owns West River, cut off the workers’ health-care benefits.
“The Center is prepared to operate indefinitely without employees represented by the Union if District 1199 fails to accept its contract proposal,” the company said in a statement. HealthBridge has threatened to lock out 800 union members at the other five nursing homes it owns in Connecticut—in Newington, Wethersfield, Danbury, Westport and Stamford.
The company has hired scabs and pays for their hotel and transportation. “They even pay for their meals and laundry,” said Jennifer Musante, a nurses assistant with 18 years seniority. “Their proposal does not guarantee us hours and they can change our shift at any time.”
Union workers at West River include housekeepers, cooks, laundry workers and nursing assistants. Nurses and office workers are not covered under the contract and are working.
One of the popular chants of the 50 pickets was “One, two, three, four, put the scabs out the door. Five, six, seven, eight, do it now, it’s not too late.” Another was “Up with the union. Up with the families. Up with the patients. Down with the boss. That dirty boss. That lyin’ boss. That greedy boss.”
“We go to supermarkets and churches to flyer to inform people of our fight,” Phillip Bradeen, a dietary chef for 20 years, said. “They locked us out while we were negotiating.” Union members from the five other homes joined a vigil of 200 people soon after the lockout began, he said.
“There have been no raises in three years,” said Sharon Jalbert, who works in the nursing home’s laundry. “There have been a lot of givebacks. You have to feed, walk, bathe and dress the residents. It’s a lot of work.”
While this reporter was at the picket line a number of patients and their family members came outside to speak to the pickets and encourage them in the fight for a contract.
“We are trying to get a fair contract. We want back in,” said Michelle Baricko, a nurses assistant. “HealthBridge does not care about the residents or the workers. They want us to spend two-and-a-half-weeks pay per month for health care for a family. Their offer on the pensions is outrageous.”
Fifteen workers at the picket line bought subscriptions to the Militant during the Jan. 7 visit.
Deborah Liatos contributed to this article.
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