LINDEN, NJ - Nursing home workers, members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, who work as certified nursing assistants, restorative aides, dietary aides, and housekeepers will strike and march on a picket line in front of the AristaCare at Delaire Nursing Home facility on Monday, January 15.
The strike will take place in protest of unfair labor practices and significant cuts to job standards that caregivers say are threatening their livelihoods and ability to keep themselves and their families healthy. There will be rallies with speakers at 8AM and at 3PM in front of the facility located at 400 W Stimpson Avenue.
Problems started this past summer when the for-profit nursing home chain, AristaCare Health Services, purchased the facility and immediately scrapped the contract that workers had negotiated with the previous owner.
Cutbacks included the elimination of a quality health benefits plan in favor of a new plan that is totally unaffordable for many workers, most of whom earn less than $13 an hour and some as little as $10. The new plan costs upwards of $1,000 a month for those who need family coverage. In addition, AristaCare at Delaire slashed workers’ sick leave by half and made cuts to their modest retirement benefit.
“I find it very disconcerting that the workers here no longer have good benefits,” said Ronald Eng, who has been a resident of the nursing home for the past four years. “For 25 years of my professional life, I enjoyed benefits in my job as an environmental engineer. It’s shocking to me that our staff don’t even have decent health benefits of their own.”
“I’m striking so I can care for my family,” said Sandra Lopez, a certified nursing assistant. “How can I afford $1000 a month for healthcare for my family when I earn only $12.89 an hour? Last month my daughter developed bronchitis and we had to pay out of pocket for her treatment. It gives me and my husband so much stress and worry to think about what would happen if any of us were to have a medical emergency because we can’t afford insurance.”
Community and political pressure have been building on AristaCare to reach an agreement with their employees. Last month, the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously passed a resolution in support of the workers’ aims, calling on AristaCare to bargain in good faith and settle a fair contract. State Senator Joseph Cryan joined workers at a vigil at the nursing home in December. Linden Mayor Derek Armstead has also spoken out in a letter to the company, asking management to avert the strike by doing “the right thing and restore the benefits that settle a fair contract so the residents of Delaire Nursing Home get the care that they pay for and deserve.”
“Reducing our sick time jeopardizes our residents’ safety because workers who can’t afford to take the day off come in sick,” said Vernicka Brown, a certified nursing assistant who has been at the facility for 29 years. “Staffing levels have also been getting worse and there’s been a lot of turnover since AristaCare took over. Skilled staff are leaving because the workload is growing while our compensation is going in the other direction.”
“Fifty years after Dr. King made his final march, with striking sanitation workers in Memphis, working people across the country are locked in the same struggle for dignity and fair employment,” said Milly Silva, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. “Today we demand that AristaCare cease committing unfair labor practices and reverse these devastating cuts that mire caregivers in poverty and ill-health. Healthcare workers need good jobs in order to deliver quality care to their patients and support their families.”