At a hearing on June 21, DC Councilmembers looked at the troubling record of VMT, a private health services contractor that runs the District-owned J.B. Johnson Nursing Center. Specifically the Committees on Government Operations, Health and Aging looked into allegations of financial mismanagement of public funds by the company, at questionably high compensation for VMT's sole shareholder, Solanges Vivens, and at VMT's failure to settle a first contract with workers who voted (165 to 0) more than two years ago to join together with 1199 SEIU.
"The degree of entitlement associated with [VMT] is shocking. For 20 years, they had this sweetheart deal," explained Councilmember David Catania, chair of the DC Committee on Health. "They would receive our buildings rent free. We paid them $1 million. We covered all their costs. That is the best business deal in America. That is nothing but free money. And to hear VMT tell it they were doing us a favor all along. cheating their employees out of wages and benefits and any host of other issues."
Bernice Blacknell and David Hickman, both CNAs at the J.B. Johnson facility and leaders in fighting for a first contract there, testified to the ongoing concerns of caregivers when it comes to staffing, patient care and safety, and intimidation from management.
Councilmembers vowed to do everything in their power to collect $1.8 million of District funds allegedly used by VMT to pay unauthorized expenses. VMT is fighting the District right now at the DC Contract Appeals Board to avoid paying back that sum that, according to the DC Inspector General, the company inappropriately used for a Department of Labor settlement and fine leveled for failure to pay prevailing wage and benefits to workers.
Councilmembers also committed to rooting out long-running health and safety, and worker rights issues at the facility.
"If we find that we have a labor practices problem, a pattern of treatment, fines," cautioned Councilmember Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), chair of the DC Committee on Government Operations, "that's a problem for the District government, because we're using District funds for the care of District residents and we expect the standards of labor for our own employees to be upheld by [VMT]."
"I feel like we're very close to finally holding VMT accountable and to winning for J.B. Johnson workers and residents," said Hickman. "But we have to keep the pressure on."