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District 1199 Claims 13-month Nursing Home Strike Settled; Spectrum Says Not Yet

Janice Podsada

May 13, 2011

Union officials staged a rally Thursday to announce a contract agreement in a yearlong strike involving 340 workers at four Connecticut nursing homes operated by Spectrum Healthcare.

But Spectrum officials said the deal is not yet final.

At the rally outside the Park Place Health Center in Hartford, officials with the New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199 told workers that a settlement had been reached and that Vernon-based Spectrum would pay $395,000 to the workers, plus $150,000 to a group of workers who had been fired. The fired employees were named in a complaint against Spectrum by the National Labor Relations Board.

Workers, including those who had been fired, were told that the contract would allow all of them to return to work Monday. The settlement includes a 3-year contract calling for raises totaling 6 percent over three years, and requires Spectrum to pay a 0.5 percent increase in its contribution to the workers' pension fund, said Deborah Chernoff, a spokeswoman for New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199 of SEIU.

"It's a beautiful day in Hartford and in Winsted, Ansonia and Derby," Chernoff said. "And in the midst of a terrible economy and the persistent threat from our employer that we would lose our jobs permanently, the members of 1199 who are caregivers at Spectrum had the courage to stand up for themselves and in so doing, [stand up] for higher standards for all nursing home residents and workers."

But Sean Murphy, Spectrum's chief financial officer, said, "I am perplexed that they made this announcement this morning. We are working on a framework for a contract with them right now, but nothing has been finalized at this point."

District 1199's president, Carmen Boudier, made the announcement Thursday morning to about 70 health care workers and supporters who had gathered near the center. Many workers carried flags and signs that read "We Won Justice for Spectrum Workers!"

"We will be back to take care of the residents that we miss so much," Boudier said, "united in our hearts."

A settlement would end a trial over the firing complaint at the National Labor Relations Board, which began in February.

Later in the day, Chernoff said she was bewildered by the company's response.

"We met with our membership on Tuesday and Wednesday to present details of the settlement agreement. They voted to ratify them. We reported that ratification to the employer and have the expectation that we will be back to work on Monday. If it wasn't an agreement than what was it we voted on?" Chernoff said.

"It's a complicated situation because it's not just a contract it's also a settlement with the Labor Board," Chernoff added.

April Grey, a certified nursing assistant who has worked at Park Place for 10 years, said she was looking forward to returning to work and caring for patients."We're going to claim our places and take care of the residents. We were family," said Grey, who attended the rally.

"We stood out here every day, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then we'd come back at night," Grey said of the 13-month-long strike.

The strike began on April 15, 2010, one year to the day after the workers' last contract expired. Spectrum was demanding various givebacks, the union said. The strikers later offered to return to work, and the company returned about half of the employees, gradually.

The other nursing homes involved in the strike against Spectrum were Birmingham Health Center in Derby, Hilltop Health Center in Ansonia and Laurel Hill Healthcare in Winsted.

The vote for the settlement was 189-6, Chernoff said.

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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