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Did Conn. nurses sabotage SNFs prior to strike?

Labor action led to lockout

THE CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT of Health is investigating complaints that unionized nursing home employees sabotaged facilities and threatened residents prior to a one-day walkout staged March 20. Chief State's Attorney John M. Bailey is also investigating the incidents, which may lead to criminal charges.

The strike involved more than 4,000 unionized CNAs, dietary, and maintenance workers at 40 Connecticut nursing homes. About a half-dozen facilities reported the allegations of sabotage to the health department against members of New England Health Care Employees Union (NEHCEU) District 1199.

The more than 20 allegations reportedly include switching medication, removing ID bracelets from residents with Alzheimer's, feeding chocolate to diabetics, telling residents that replacement workers would harm or kill them, gluing shut the door to an oxygen-tank storage room, and smearing feces in a shower stall.

Facilities involved in the incidents say that they were able to correct the problems before any residents were harmed.

Union officials say that they were unaware of the allegations until they were reported by the media on the evening of March 29.

"These allegations, true or not, are serious and need to be investigated. But the real work that both parties have to do is to work something Out at the bargaining table," says Deborah Chemoff, a spokesperson for NEHCEU District 1199. "We are appalled by the charges and hope that they are not true."

Toni Fatone, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association for Health Care Facilities (CAHCF), characterized the one-day strike as an act of health care terrorism in which more than 6,000 nursing home residents were, in effect, held hostage. "Everyone has a right to strike, but with that right comes very serious responsibility," she says. "While we believe that these [alleged] activities were perpetrated by a handful of people, even so much as one member of the union taking part in these activities undermines their argument that their primary issue is patient care."

The workers represented by NEI-ICEU, who are generally paid between $13 and $15 an hour, are seeking a minimum 6 percent pay raise and higher minimum staffing levels. Although most of them returned to work March 21, 16 nursing homes said that they would continue to use the replacement workers, who were prepaid under a five-day contract with Colorado-based U.S. Nursing Corps. As a result, about 1,500 employees were locked out until the following Sunday. By March 25, they were back at work, and union officials were preparing to resume negotiations with nursing home operators.

The union has filed a lawsuit against Gov. John G. Rowland because the state helped defray the cost of hiring replacements. "The lawsuit is based on the National Labor Relations Act, which says that the state may not take sides in a labor dispute," explains Chernoff.
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Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Date:May 1, 2001
Previous Article:Walking proudly.
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