March 13, 2013
Nearly 700 Connecticut nursing home workers ended an eight-month strike when they returned to work March 3 with their desired benefits restored.
Workers at five nursing homes operated by HealthBridge Management walked off the job last July after HealthBridge terminated their pensions, raised health insurance premiums, and reduced their number of sick days and vacation time.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy (D) joined workers on the picket line, accusing HealthBridge of trying to "illegally...break the union."
Federal Judge Sides with Workers
In December, Judge Robert Chatigny of the U.S. District Court in Connecticut ruled that HealthBridge had, in fact, broken the law by mandating the benefit cuts before a reasonable impasse on negotiations could be reached.
Chatigny's ruling stated that HealthBridge would have to rehire the striking workers under the pre-strike contract conditions.
HealthBridge applied several times for a federal stay against Chatigny's decision, but was denied each time. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Antonin Scalia each separately rejected HealthBridge’s application.
"A Major Victory"
SEIU 1199, which represents the workers, called Chatigny's decision a "major victory."
"The strength, courage, determination and sheer persistence of these workers in pushing back against a wealthy employer's assault on hard-won standards for the caregivers has been both inspiring and critical for all health care workers," said Deborah Chernoff of SEIU.
But, as Tim Mullaney of McKnight's Long Term Care News points out, HealthBridge and the workers will still have to negotiate a new contract, which may be difficult given that "there is still much rancor" between the two sides.
"Make no mistake -- despite the string of legal successes for the workers, this battle is far from over," Chernoff added. "Yet despite the odds, workers are still determined to see it through.
"Quality care and quality jobs are worth fighting for," she said.
-- by Matthew Ozga