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Strike Begins At Park Place Health Center, Three Other Nursing Homes

Mara Lee

April 16, 2010

Women in scrubs or chef's whites with tambourines, maracas and bright yellow flags circled round and round in the bright sunshine outside Park Place Health Center, chanting: "We deserve a contract now."

The strike at Park Place and at three other Spectrum Healthcare nursing homes with workers represented by Service Employees International Union began Thursday morning. The union said picketing will continue daily until a settlement is reached.

The 387 workers have been without a contract since March 2009. The timing of the next raise, pay for workers injured on the job, and vacation and holiday pay are sticking points in negotiations.

One of Park Place's 50 picketers, Nedra Williams of Windsor, has been a nursing assistant there for 11 years. She makes more than $16 an hour, but it has been two years since the last increase.

"We've been fighting for a contract for a year now. It's ridiculous," she said.

Williams said it's not right that the company wants workers to wait until November before getting a 2.5 percent increase, and that they want to take away three holidays.

Spectrum has offered other sites the same raise in July 2011.

Williams, a single mother of a 14-year-old daughter, is worried about how long it might take to reach an agreement. Her strike pay is half her regular pay.

She also is sorry for the patients, who are being cared for by replacement workers.

"The residents, they're used to us. They're like a part of us. Even yesterday, when they heard we were not going to be here today, they were crying."

Spectrum Chief Financial Officer Sean Murphy said the majority of the workers hired to cover the strikers' duties are permanent replacements. But he left the door open to a settlement.

"We would like to reach an agreement," he said.

Deborah Chernoff, spokeswoman for SEIU District 1199, said the local has been able to agree with 32 other nursing homes in the last year. The last SEIU nursing home strike in Connecticut was seven years ago.

Murphy said the employees' traditional pension and no cost-sharing on health insurance premiums are impressive.

"Not proposing any reduction in that shows an extraordinary commitment to our employees," he said. "I didn't think that we were that far apart, and we're disappointed in the union's decision to take this job action."

He said 75 percent of the nursing homes' patients are covered by Medicaid, and those reimbursements have been flat since 2007.

Hartford resident Elisabeth Sola has been on the overnight shift at Park Place for four years, and she makes $14.35 an hour. She's upset about the company's proposal to pay $10 an hour to nurse's assistants who are healing from injuries and unable to lift patients. She has never been hurt, but she could see how it could happen.

"It's a heavy job. A lot of pushing and pulling," Sola said. She said patients must be turned over to make sure they don't get bed sores. "That's my job."

Sola, a single mother of an 8- and 10-year-old, is worried about how long she may have to be out on strike. "I depend on this. I don't have another job."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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