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Sunday, October 26, 2014

First contracts in Southern New England for personal caregivers

Visiting Nurses' Caregivers Celebrate Strong New Contracts, "Whole New Level of Respect" for Home Health Aides
By Matt O'Connor
Waterford CT - Registered nurses (RNs) and home health aides (HHAs) employed by the Visiting Nurses Association of Southeastern Connecticut (VNASC) last week ratified the first contracts to cover both groups of patient care providers. 

The votes by the combined workforce of approximately 130 caregivers followed successful negotiations with management of the subsidiary of Lawrence and Memorial Corporation (LMC), the region's largest health service provider. 

"We made some real gains with this first contract, but even more important has been the change in how we've been treated since joining the union," said Christine Moretti a home health aide who has served patients of the VNASC for 10 years. "It was very clear right after our election that there was a whole new level of respect for us and the work we do," said Moretti.

Moretti's comments refer to last year's drive by the VNASC's home health aides to exercise their rights to join their colleagues in a single union in AFT Connecticut. Their high profile effort gained the support of both the state's U.S. senators and has been cited as inspiration by employees of another LMC entity currently engaged in organizing efforts. 

Last week the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) scheduled a November 5 union election for nurses, medical assistants, and healthcare workers at Lawrence + Memorial Medical Group (LMMG)'s outpatient facility in New London.

"Negotiating side-by-side, nurses and aides showed that in unity there is strength," said Martha Marx, an RN with 10 years of service at the VNASC. "I'm so proud of the progress we've made together in both our contracts, which will go a long way to stabilize the VNA's workforce for the community we serve," said Marx, who also serves as president of the Visiting Nurses of Southeastern Connecticut, AFT Local 5119.

Marx's comments refer to gains for both groups in their respective collective bargaining agreements, including two percent general wage increases for each of the three years covered. New benefits in the HHAs' contract include a wage scale recognizing years of service for the first time and an additional seven days of paid time off per year employed. They also won a two-thirds reduction in the length of employment required in order to be vested in their employer-provided retirement account.

"The real winners here are the patients and their families who rely on these hard-working caregivers," said Melodie Peters, a former state senator from the region and president of AFT Connecticut. 

"Together, they provide an efficient and effective alternative to costly nursing home settings and it's gratifying to see them recognized for their important contribution," Peters said.

Under their new contract, many HHAs will see immediate hourly wage increases of two to three dollars with some seeing hikes of as high as five dollars per hour. Additional improvements include a significant reduction in out-of-pocket medical expenses for personal care assistants relying on Workers Compensation income due to an injury on the job. Their new contract also includes first ever due process protections, improved short term disability benefits, an employer-provided cellphone, and reduced employee health insurance costs.


AFT Connecticut represents approximately 10,000 health professionals in the state, including 1,600 nurses, technicians, and healthcare workers at Lawrence + Memorial (L+M) Hospital in New London, and 130 nurses and home health aides based at the Visiting Nurses Association of Southeastern Connecticut in Waterford. Follow the labor federation on Twitter at @AFTCT and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/aftct.