On Thursday, September 8th at 11am, NYU students, nursing home caregivers and street theater performers conducted a mock opening ceremony for the newly renamed ‘Straus Institute for Worker Injustice’ to humorously draw attention to the exploitative practices of the Care One and HealthBridge nursing home chains. The ceremony took place in front of the Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice, which is affiliated with NYU Law School and endowed by Daniel Straus. Straus runs nursing homes throughout the East Coast, some of which have been involved in recent Federal Unfair Labor Practice Complaints issued by the National Labor Relations Board, including for unlawfully firing caregivers and bad-faith bargaining in negotiations.
Performers dressed in colorful suits led the satirical ceremony in front of the Institute with a large hand-drawn banner that read, “Welcome to the Straus Institute for Worker Injustice.” One performer played the role of Daniel Straus, mock founder of the ‘Straus Institute for Worker Injustice’, while others played fellows with satirical research proposals. One performer proposed to do a project on how to get workers to work for longer hours with less pay. “Free no-doze and Red Bull for everyone,” she said. Another suggested cutting staffing ratios because, “what nursing resident needs more than 30 seconds of care in a day?” She explained how to best fire workers without getting in trouble—“You just hire them back at lower wages!”
The ceremony was satirical but drew largely from real occurrences in the nursing homes, such as unlawful firings and proposed cuts in staffing ratios at certain facilities.
“My coworkers and I know the difference between justice and injustice,” said Eva Fall, Dietary Worker at Newington Health Care Center in Connecticut. “Justice is treating workers and patients fairly and with dignity. Injustice is firing workers then rehiring them as “new employees” with lower wages and no benefits. Injustice is making healthcare for healthcare givers unaffordable. Injustice is what HealthBridge practices every day.”
Workers, including unlawfully fired caregivers from Somerset Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, traveled from both Connecticut and New Jersey to attend the mock ceremony.
“I was fired after eleven years on the job last February. After we had our union election, management retaliated against us and fired nurses, CNA’s and housekeepers,” said Jillian Jacques, a Licensed Practical Nurse at Care One’s Somerset facility in Bound Brook, New Jersey. “We’ve been through a lot this year. I haven’t had any insurance since last February, and I pray I don’t get sick. It’s just awful what they are doing, it’s just greed and injustice. All we’re looking for is a little fairness.”
Straus Institute founder Daniel Straus runs the Care One and HealthBridge nursing home chains in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and other states. According to the most recent data available, Care One-run facilities in CT and MA generated a net income of over $13.6 million in 2010. Care One-run facilities in NJ generated a net income of more than $23.3 million in 2009. In addition, HealthBridge Management, a company 100% owned by Care One that manages facilities in all three states, generated a net income of more than $11.4 million in 2010.
Workers at Care One’s Somerset nursing home facility in Bound Brook, New Jersey voted to form a union on September 2nd, 2010 but Care One refused to accept the outcome of the election. Instead, they illegally fired and disciplined workers for their union support and filed objections to the election victory with the National Labor Relations Board. The Board issued a complaint alleging unlawful disciplines, discharges and interrogations of workers for their union support, and filed for injunctive relief seeking the illegally terminated workers to be returned to their jobs. 1199SEIU was certified by the Board last week as the collective bargaining representative for the Somerset workers but Care One has yet to recognize the union. Throughout the campaign and proceedings to challenge the union’s victory, instead of focusing on caring for nursing home residents, Care One wasted resources fighting its own employees and taking caregivers from the residents’ bedsides.
In Connecticut, the Regional Director of the National Labor Relations Board issued an 18-page federal Complaint and Notice of Hearing against HealthBridge and Care One, and each of six nursing homes, detailing multiple charges of “interfering with, restraining and coercing employees in the exercise of their rights” under the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act and “failing and refusing to bargain … in good faith” with District 1199. The Complaint focuses on HealthBridge’s discharge of dozens of housekeepers, who were then rehired at lower rates of pay and without their seniority and earned benefits. HealthBridge has threatened to lock caregivers out of their jobs at the six nursing home facilities where they are represented by District 1199-New England Healthcare Employees Union-SEIU, and has proposed to slash safe staffing ratios along with wages and benefits.