SEIU 1199 protest outside Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center Credit: Courtesy of SEIU 1199

A strike at a Windsor nursing home accused of unfair labor practices will proceed unless a tentative agreement for raises and other benefits is crafted by 6 a.m. Friday, according to officials with the New England Health Care Employees Union, SEIU 1199.

The union and four other homes, Avery Heights, Bloomfield Health Care Center, the Hebrew Center for Health and Rehabilitation and Mapleview Health and Rehabilitation, came to a tentative agreement to avoid strikes at those facilities, Rob Baril, president of the union said  during a press conference Thursday morning.

But as of Thursday morning, the union had no tentative agreement with Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center paving the way for a strike, Baril said.

For Yvonne Foster, a longtime CNA who has worked at Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center for 21 years, the lack of resources has been stagnant wages and abysmal resident to worker ratios. During the evening shift, there is one CNA for 60 patients, Foster said.

“It’s so hard to watch what we are going through,” Foster, who told the group she is making $17 an hour despite decades of service at the company, said.

The union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that the owner of the home engaged in unfair labor practices by negotiating with unlicensed certified nursing assistants to have them work without pay in exchange for paying for licensure or educational support, according to Jesse Martin, the union’s vice president of nursing homes.

In some cases, people worked 120 hours with no pay but didn’t receive the educational support required to pass the licensure test, Martin said.

The company has also refused to agree to contract terms that would increase pay for workers, provide health care at a reasonable cost and a path to retirement for 50 employees despite more state funding for that purpose, Martin and Baril said.

“I think you just heard from Yvonne in terms of poverty level wages even for employees who have risked their lives for the last two years, held the hands of the sick and dying,” Baril said. “We are still below the terms with which we have settled with 59 other nursing homes.”

Baril also said that “many, many” employees can’t afford the health care premiums. “These workers are very clear that they don’t want to be second class citizens,” Baril said.

But the owner of the home said the allegations are not true and the company is offering raises. Lara Alatise who purchased Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center with her family six years ago said she allowed people to “shadow” workers for one week to determine if they wanted to continue the process of becoming a CNA.

During that period, they were not paid, she confirmed. But after one week, if they opted to continue, they were hired and paid during the training process, Alatise said. “We have offered to show the union our payroll,” she said.

She is offering to give everyone raises of 4.5% retroactive to July 2021 and raises of 2.5% and 1.5% in 2023 and 2024, Alatise said. She is also offering employees with 20-years of service free health care, she said. “We’ve bargained in good faith with the union all along,” she said.

The union has settled new contracts with about 60 other homes with provisions for a wage increase to $20 an hour, cheaper health care premiums, and a path to retirement. Details of the tentative agreement with the four other homes that had been designated for strikes were not released Thursday. Those contracts still have to be ratified by union members, officials said.

If all five homes had gone on strike, it would have impacted about 400 union members, officials said. The strike at Windsor Health and Rehabilitation Center will involve 50 employees.

The state Department of Social Services administers a 10% temporary funding increase beginning in July 2021 to deal with staffing concerns related to the pandemic, according to the agency’s website. That funding was set to expire in March but was extended to July, the website said. Nursing homes were also eligible to apply for a 4.5% increase in Medicaid funding to provide for enhanced wages and other benefits to retain and hire staff, the DSS said.  

If the home and the union do not come to an agreement by Friday morning, the employees will go on strike, Baril said.