Workers at a Connecticut nursing home will remain locked out of their jobs at least through Christmas after their union's effort to get nursing home management to agree to binding arbitration failed. The lockout of about 100 workers at the West River Health Care Center in Milford, Connecticut began Dec. 13.
This week, SEIU 1199, the union representing the workers, asked HealthBridge Management to agree to binding arbitration, as Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy had urged both sides to do. However, HealthBridge would agree to arbitration only "with the condition that the union accept that its workers' pensions would be frozen, and that no future hires would get traditional pensions." Since pensions were one of the major points of contention in the contract negotiations, in effect, management was saying "give in to us on one of our two big wishes and we'll talk about compromise on other stuff." It's also a signal that they weren't serious about agreeing to arbitration in the first place and believed they would lose on the pension issue if the dispute were to go to arbitration.
Health care costs were also at issue:
A major sticking point is cost-sharing of health insurance, according to the union. Now, unionized employees don't pay any premiums, and the company has proposed $7,300 a year for family coverage — down from an initial proposal of more than $11,000 a year.
The average pay for nursing aides in the HealthBridge homes is $15.36 an hour, and the rate last went up in 2009, when it increased by 50 cents an hour, Chernoff said.
At $15.36 an hour, adding health care costs of $7,300 a year is a nearly 23 percent cut in full-time pre-tax annual income. That's kind of big. HealthBridge's proposal does include a raise, but not one that would cover the added insurance costs; they are also trying to cut paid time off.
HealthBridge has five other unionized nursing homes in Connecticut and is threatening to lock out the 700 workers at those sites in an attempt to gain leverage in the Milford fight.