Workers at the Westport Health Care Center and four other nursing homes in the state operated by New Jersey-based HealthBridge Management will return to work March 3 after a months-long strike, even though they still don't have a contract.
"People are thrilled," said union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff. "They have been away from their jobs and their residents for eight months. It has been incredibly difficult and stressful."
In early July, about 600 union employees of the five nursing homes -- Westport Health Care Center, West River Health Care Center in Milford, Long Ridge in Stamford, Danbury Health Care Center and Newington Health Care Center -- walked off the job in response to HealthBridge instituting a "last, best and final" contract after more than a year of unsuccessful negotiations with the union. The union representing the workers, New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, has argued that the contract was unfair and was illegally implemented.
Late last year, U.S. District Court Judge Robert N. Chatigny granted an injunction to restore the caregivers to their prior positions and halt HealthBridge's implementation of the contract. However, no date was set for their return and HealthBridge made several attempts to appeal the decision.
The company's requests for an emergency stay were first denied by Chatigny, then by a three-judge panel convened by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, and finally by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The eight-month strike was part of a long battle between the union and HealthBridge. Previous to the walkout, HealthBridge locked out employees of West River for 14 weeks.
After the strike started, the company accused workers of acts of sabotage at the Danbury, Newington and Long Ridge sites.
Chernoff said the battle between the union and HealthBridge likely won't end once the employees return to work, as a new contract still has to be negotiated.