In a showing of commitment and determination to improve jobs and protect quality care, nursing home workers at four Alaris Health facilities in New Jersey held pickets on June 29th and 30th. 1199SEIU members called for fair contracts that would improve staffing levels for certified nursing assistants, provide affordable family health insurance, and raise wages for low-wage caregivers.

Ella Moton, a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at Alaris Health at HarborView, makes less than $12 an hour despite 15 years of service with the company. “There are times when I don’t have money to keep the lights on,” she said. “When the electricity goes out, the food in my refrigerator spoils and I have to throw it all away. Family members come to help, but I wish I didn’t have to burden them—I want to support myself on my own. That’s why I’m fighting for a fair contract.”

Alaris nursing homes in New Jersey generated $170 million in profit between 2010-2014, the most recent years where data is available, according to data from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Members cite the nursing home chain’s profitability as ample reason why it can and should be investing in better jobs so that workers can stay healthy and provide for their own families as they care for others.

“The reason I’m picketing is for better health care,” said Vicky Nieves, a CNA and dietary aide at Alaris Health at Boulevard East. “Our health insurance is very poor, and some of my co-workers have creditors coming after them for unpaid medical bills. As healthcare workers, shouldn’t we have good healthcare for ourselves and our families?”

Over 450 Alaris employees have been working under expired contracts for over two years. They have been unable to reach agreement with the company, which for months engaged in illegal actions which harassed workers and delayed bargaining. Earlier this year, a judge found Alaris nursing homes guilty of a litany of charges, including illegally threatening and retaliating against workers and refusing to bargain in good faith with the union.

But 1199SEIU members weren’t intimidated and continue to organize for a contract that values the care they provide to their residents. “Every day we work, we lose something of our body,” said Ron Lesense, a CNA at Alaris Health at Castle Hill. “It’s not easy doing what we do, and we need to be respected for it.”