The caregivers seek to protect and improve the quality of services they provide, stabilize the workforce, and achieve greater economic security for themselves and their families through collective bargaining. The aides are petitioning to unite in AFT Connecticut, the labor federation that includes the unions representing the VNASC’s nurses and LMC’s Lawrence & Memorial Hospital’s caregivers and healthcare workers.
“More and more, we feel like we’re invisible to the corporation that we work for,” said Albina Letterle, who has worked as a home health aide for 21 years. “But we know what we do for our patients is what really matters. We feel like they are our family. That’s why we come to work every day,” she said.
Letterle and her 25 co-workers provide personal care to patients and assist with their day-to-day activities in order to allow them to concentrate on rehabilitation or acclimation. The aides serve a vulnerable population with acute or chronic healthcare needs that have chosen to recover or adapt in their own homes rather than a medical institution or hospice.
“We know our managers are being pressured by L&M Corporation to treat our service more like a business,” said Nina Rodriguez, a home health aide with 11 years of patient care experience at the Southeastern VNA. “But that’s not what this job is about. It’s about heart. It’s about compassion,” she said.
Rodriguez’ comments refer to the impact of modified working conditions apparently related to LMC’s demand that the VNASC produce more profits for the corporation. Changes include the imposition of unrealistic travel time allotted between visits to patients’ homes and increased workloads. The aides intend to improve the quality of care they provide by establishing appropriate visit schedules and realistic patient loads in future contract negotiations with their employer.
“These hard-working caregivers deserve to be treated by their employer with dignity and respect,” said Melodie Peters, a licensed practical nurse, former state senator from the region, and president of AFT Connecticut. “They are a vital part of what makes their services such an efficient and effective alternative to nursing home care. The corporation should recognize their value and direct the Southeastern VNA to sit down with them at the bargaining table now,” she said.
Peters’ remarks refer to the lack of access to affordable, quality healthcare and stagnant, low wages faced by the VNASC’s aides as a result of LMC’s failure to invest in this workforce. Currently, the corporation denies medical insurance benefits to aides considered “per diem,” and many employees considered permanent cannot afford coverage due to their wages. The corporation has limited starting hourly pay to $11.00, far below the minimum rate calculated as “family-sustaining” by the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute. In a recent survey, the think-tank determined that for two working adults to support a family of three in the region, both must earn at least $16.58 per hour.
AFT Connecticut filed for a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to confirm the size and scope of the bargaining unit that would include the VNASC’s home health aides. The board has scheduled a hearing for September 23 in Hartford where it is expected an agent will schedule a union election to take place approximately four weeks later. The aides remain hopeful that the vote won’t be necessary and that their employer will instead respect their decision and voluntarily recognize the free choice of the majority to unionize.
AFT Connecticut, the largest union of acute care hospital workers in the state, represents approximately 100 nurses based at the Visiting Nurses Association of Southeastern Connecticut in Waterford. Follow the labor federation on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aftct.
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