Members of the state’s largest healthcare workers union held up a National Labor Relations Board ruling Monday as its first victory in a five month strike at four nursing homes.
“It means that the boss violated our union contract in many ways,” Carmen Boudier, president of New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, said as she rallied the striking workers outside Park Place Health Center in Hartford.
The National Labor Relations Board allegedly found that Spectrum Health Care fired or suspended 14 employees in violation of federal labor law. A hearing on the ruling will be held Nov. 2.
Of the 50 firings or suspensions the union alleged, it was only able to get a hearing on a handful, Sean Murphy, chief financial officer of Spectrum Health Care, said Monday.
He said the employees that were terminated or suspended were let go or disciplined for reasons that had nothing to do with their union affiliation.
But the union disagrees saying they suspended or fired the workers for their union activity.
Dori Harrington, a nurse at Park Place in Hartford, said she was suspended for one day in January because she punched her timecard a minute or two late. She said no one was ever disciplined for punching in a minute or two late.
The union and Spectrum have been in negotiations over wage increases and benefits for more than a year. The union’s contract expired in March 2009 and the strike started on April 15 of this year. All of the National Labor Relations Board allegations outlined in the complaint came prior to the strike.
Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford, said he doesn’t want this strike to turn out like the one at Avery Heights where workers were on strike for more than two years. After a 10 year court battle, Avery Heights ended up paying $2.05 million to 133 workers, plus nearly half a million in pension benefits.
Negotiations with the union are ongoing and will continue, Murphy said. He said Spectrum offered a 2.5 percent wage increase months ago, but because it wanted to start the wage increase three months later than the unions wanted, they went on strike.
Since that time at least two nursing homes in the state are considering closing their doors. He said the nursing home industry, which hasn’t seen a Medicaid rate increase since July 2008, is hurting and the framework for funding it is broken.
He said about three-fourths of the funding for nursing homes comes from Medicaid. With the state facing a $3.4 billion deficit it doesn’t look like there’s any increase on the horizon.
As recently as last week the Jewish Home For The Aged in New Haven is considering closing its doors.