“For me, this decision was always about quality care for our patients,” said Griselle Escelara, an aide who has delivered home health services for seven years. “We needed a voice to advocate for ourselves and our clients and their families. Now we can join forces with our nurses to make home care even better and more available to families that depend on us,” she said.
Escelera’s comments refer to the vote bringing the Southeastern VNA’s 26 home health aides into Local 5119, AFT which has represented the non-profit’s nurses for more than 20 years. The union is affiliated with AFT Connecticut, the labor federation that also represents LMC’s Lawrence & Memorial Hospital’s registered nurses, licensed practical nurses (LPNs), health technicians, and other healthcare workers.
“I voted ‘Yes’ for a shot at making the job I love one I can afford to keep doing,” said Donna Miller, a home health aide with 10 years of experience at the bedside. “The low wages and expensive healthcare were making it tough for me to hang on. Now I can tell my patients that I will be there for them when they need me,” she said.
Miller’s comments refer to LMC’s failure to invest in the VNASC’s home health aides with livable wages or access to affordable, quality healthcare. Starting hourly pay is currently $11.00, well below the region’s minimum family-sustaining wage as determined by the non-partisan Economic Policy Institute. Low wages also keep medical insurance coverage out of reach for many of the full-time, permanent employees, and aides considered “per diem” are denied the benefit.
“It was a long time coming, but I’m glad this day has finally arrived,” said Cindy Hollis, a home health aide who has served patients in the region for seven years. “I would have preferred that management show us a little more respect in this process. But now that we’re united and organized, it’s time to look ahead and move forward,” she said.
Hollis’ comments refer to the delay of the secret ballot election originally scheduled for October 25. The NLRB announced in early October a potential postponement as a result of the partial federal government shut-down driven by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. When the agency determined the election could go forward as scheduled, VNASC management refused to consent and forced the additional two-week wait.
“This is a new day for home healthcare in Southeastern Connecticut,” said Melodie Peters, an LPN and president of AFT Connecticut. “This vote will go a long way toward helping caregivers win the respect and dignity they deserve from their employer. With that, they can work with the VNA’s nurses and patients to build a stronger consumer-directed home care program for the community,” said Peters, who is also a former state senator from the region.
Peters’ comments refer to the potential taxpayer savings with the expansion of home-based care options, which are more cost-effective than nursing home settings. The region’s population of elderly residents is expected to rise exponentially in the next ten years, and the demand for home care services is anticipated to skyrocket. Families of people with disabilities and chronic diseases are also increasingly choosing to receive the care they need in their homes instead of institutional facilities. Investing in the creation of good home care jobs will help ensure a stable workforce of reliable home caregivers is in place to meet the growing need.
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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