Nurses, CNAs, and other workers from two Rhode Island nursing homes owned by Genesis HealthCare Corporation are outraged over a demand from management that they pay thousands of dollars more in health care costs. On March 5 and 6, they voted overwhelmingly – by a count of 140 to 7 – to reject management’s plan, and then demonstrated their anger by picketing outside of their workplace the following week.
Here’s a video of some of the picketing, along with testimony from a few workers on how the increased costs for health care would affect them and their families:
The employees are members of 1199, and they are in the process of renegotiating their contract with Genesis covering the wages, benefits, and working conditions at the Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Centers of Pawtucket and Greenville.
Genesis HealthCare Corporation is a for-profit nursing home operator that runs more than 200 facilities in 13 different states. Seven of those homes are in Rhode Island, and the company received over $35 million in reimbursements from the State of RI last year. Citing economic uncertainty, the company is seeking to impose a contract that would expose workers to up to $11,000 a year in healthcare costs.
For workers who make around $30,000, this is a hardship that they’re unwilling to accept, causing 95% of them to vote to reject Genesis’ demands.
“This is a profit-hungry, multimillion dollar company, and it’s time they start treating us like human beings,” said Deborah Armfield a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) who works at the Pawtucket location. “For 22 years, I have worked hard and taken good care of my patients. But if I had to pay a third of my income in healthcare, I wouldn’t even be able to take care of my own family.”
Employees also expressed concern that these cutbacks would compromise the quality of care for their patients.
“If I’m worried about how I’m going to pay for my daughters’ hospital visit and still keep food on the table, I’m going to have a harder time ensuring my patients get the best care they can,” said Ibrahima Konte, a CNA at Greenville. “The best way to ensure stable care for our residents is to ensure a stable workforce. If Genesis gets their way, the turnover is going to go through the roof.”
Genesis shows little sign of budging. In an effort to intimidate their employees, the company has recently taken out want ads in local papers looking for replacement workers to work in the event of “a possible labor dispute” and have threatened long-time employees with the potential loss of employment.
But the workers at Greenville and Pawtucket aren’t budging, either. According to Mary Jane Waterman, who has been a CNA at Pawtucket Center for over 30 years, “Genesis needs to understand that we are united, and we are going to fight for what’s right, for as long as it takes.”
“This is about our basic rights,” Waterman stressed. “We take good care of our patients; all we want to do is take care of our families, too.”