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Lockout possible at nursing home as contract talks stall

Updated 11:25 am, Friday, December 30, 2011
  • A view of the Westport Health Care Center at 1 Burr Road. About 75 employees at the nursing home belong to the Service Employees International Union, whose negotiators have reached an apparent impasse in contract talks with representatives of the health-care company that owns the nursing home. Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    A view of the Westport Health Care Center at 1 Burr Road. About 75 employees at the nursing home belong to the Service Employees International Union, whose negotiators have reached an apparent impasse in contract talks with representatives of the health-care company that owns the nursing home. Photo: Paul Schott

 

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Dozens of Westport Health Care Center employees face an uncertain future as contract negotiations stalled again Wednesday night between their union and the health-care company that runs the Westport nursing home.

The contract talks affect approximately 700 union workers at six Connecticut nursing homes, members of the Service Employees International Union, District 1199. At the Westport Health Care Center, about 75 workers -- including certified nursing assistants, registered nurses, and cooking and housekeeping staff -- belong to the SEIU.

HealthBridge Management, the New Jersey-based company that owns the nursing homes, has reportedly offered employees at those facilities a 12 percent raise over three years. But HealthBridge is also seeking increased health-insurance contributions from employees, and the elimination of a paid half-hour lunch, according to SEIU representatives.

The latest contract terms offered by HealthBridge would increase single-insurance plan costs by $1,450 annually and family-insurance plan outlays by $7,200 per year for certified nursing assistants, according to SEIU statistics. That offer has been criticized by SEIU representatives.

"They want to pull money out of front-line care," said SEIU spokeswoman Julie Popper. "They'd be cutting their front-line caregiver costs significantly, putting a ton of money back in their pocket. And where is the money going to go? It's just profit for the New Jersey owners."

Westport Health Care Center SEIU members do not currently pay health-insurance premiums. Such a provision is common in SEIU contracts, Popper said. The SEIU, however, has indicated its willingness for District 1199 members to pay for a portion of their health-care costs, but not at the rates proposed by HealthBridge, she added.

HealthBridge responded in a Dec. 28 statement that union negotiators are asking for their members' benefits to "remain exactly the same."

"When bargaining has been going on for more than 11 months, and their members at West River Health Care Center are locked out of their jobs, it is difficult to believe that the union considered this a significant offer," HealthBridge spokeswoman Lisa Crutchfield said in the statement.

SEIU member employees at the West River Health Care Center in Milford have been locked out since Dec. 13.

The Westport Health Care Center is the town's only skilled nursing center, according to HealthBridge's website. The facility offers physical, occupational and speech therapies, as well as post-acute 24-hour nursing care, the Health Bridge website says. Clinical staff provide IV antibiotic, wound care and wound-vac treatments, HealthBridge's website adds.

While HealthBridge has set a Jan. 1 deadline to resolve contract negotiations, new talks have not yet been scheduled, according to Popper. If HealthBridge and SEIU representatives do not reach an accord, Westport Health Care Center employees could be locked out, Popper said.

Strike action does not figure in SEIU members' plans, Popper said.

Before Jan. 1, SEIU representatives hope to find out more information about HealthBridge's proposed health-insurance plans, as well as its reported proposal to switch District 1199 members from a defined-benefit pension plan to a defined-contribution plan, Popper said.

"We don't know anything about this 401-K they're proposing," she said. "We don't know who administers it, what kind of success it's had in the past, what the workers' options would be for investment -- we have none of that right now."

HealthBridge countered in its Dec. 28 release that SEIU negotiators have "refused to continue bargaining and refused to schedule any additional bargaining dates," because of the request for more information.