West River Health Care facility workers may go on strike

Caregivers at five HealthBridge nursing homes in Connecticut, including the West River Health Care Center in Milford, voted by secret ballot on Wednesday to authorize strikes after the company implemented its “last, best and final” offer.

Hundreds of members of District 1199, including nurses, frontline CNAs, dietary, laundry and housekeeping staff voted to send a 10-day strike notice, with a deadline of 6 a.m. on Tuesday, July 3.

“Day after day for the last 16 years, I have worked to provide the best care possible to our residents,” said Eva Fal, who works at the Newington Health Care Center, “and I have never seen owners as profit-hungry as the owners of HealthBridge, the Straus Brothers. They make millions and millions of dollars in profits each year — but they have the nerve to say that our pay and benefits aren’t ‘realistic’?”

Union leaders say that the company’s last best offer “guts virtually every economic benefit and right HealthBridge workers had, cutting workers’ weekly hours, making health insurance unaffordable with annual premiums soaring to more than $8,000 per year for many employees, and ending any retirement security the workers could hope to have after a lifetime of challenging and often backbreaking work.”

The strike notices cover the Danbury Health Care Center, Long Ridge of Stamford, the Newington Health Care Center, the West River Health Care Center (in Milford) and the Westport Health Care Center. Earlier this month, the State of Connecticut gave HealthBridge permission to close the Wethersfield Health Care Center and the company.

The health care center owners announced their last best offier last week after officials said they reached an impasse in negotiations with the union.

“The affiliated Health Care Centers’ final proposals, which took effect today, contain significant concessions in exchange for raises totaling 9% in the first year and 17% over six years for most bargaining unit employees,” a company spokesperson said.

The officials said their offer represents realistic wage and benefit packages that will allow the affiliated Health Care Centers to operate on a sustainable, long-term basis despite cuts in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and other challenges in the health care marketplace.

The implementation comes after almost 17 months of bargaining failed to result in new agreements.

Healthcare workers spent months picketing in front of the West River Health Care facility after the owners locked them out of their jobs for failing to approve a contract. The company eventually let them back in and talks continued.

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