Six nursing home workers stood outside the Hartford Golf Club and handed out flyers detailing the salaries of Mercy Community’s chief executive officers outside its charity golf event Monday.
The small protest, which ended at the tournament’s 11:30 a.m. tee time, was what nursing home employees described as a warning to its employer, St. Mary Home of West Hartford, which is owned and operated by Mercy Community.
“Now we don’t begrudge Bill and Steve their near $500,000 combined salary, or even their 50 percent raise since 2005,” Steve Thornton, vice president of the New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, said. “All we are saying is we are asking for modest increases to our pension fund and wages so that the workers here can actually feed their families as well.”
The cost of registration for the annual golf fundraiser was $275 per person or $1,100 per foursome.
St. Mary Home and its 200 nursing assistants, dietary, laundry, housekeeping and other support staff have been engaged in negotiations for a new contract since February. Their contract expired in March.
St. Mary’s is not alone. Contracts with workers expired at more than 60 of the state’s nursing homes.
“It’s the rare employer that voluntarily comes to the negotiating table and lets people make progress, and its agreeable,” Thornton said. “They usually need at the very least a nudge, and sometimes they need the threat of what our main power is, which is to withhold our labor.”
Federal mediation services were called in by the employer at the beginning of the negotiations but Thornton believes they have not been playing an active role in moving the negotiations forward.
Several phone calls to St. Mary’s Home for comment were not returned.
Carmen Walker, who has worked as a nurse’s aid at St. Mary for 42 years, has been there for all of the negotiations, starting the same year St. Mary employees unionized in 1969.
“There are a lot of single mothers and there are a lot of people that need education,” said Walker. “We want to keep the benefit fund, we want to keep the educational fund, we want to keep the health fund, those are the things we need to keep for the workers.”
SEIU District 1199 has been through tough negotiations the past, including one resulting in a 13-month-long strike at four Spectrum Healthcare nursing homes in Ansonia, Derby, Hartford and Winsted.