1199 Caregivers Picket to Demand Fair Wages and Quality Health Care

April 29, 2013

On Wednesday, April 24, 1199SEIU members held an informational picket at Forest Hill Healthcare Center in Newark,NJ, to demand a fair contract. Around 80 caregivers have gone for nearly two years without a raise and are at risk of seeing their health benefits cut.

Workers and management have been in contract negotiations since June 2011, but no agreement has yet been reached. Among members’ top concerns is management’s refusal to fund health insurance at a level that would maintain existing benefits.

“We're fighting for fair pay and to keep our health care,” said Karen Williams, who has worked as a dietary aide at the facility for the past three years. “The cost of rent, gas, and everything else keeps going up, but our wages don't. How can we survive?”

Sharohn Johnson, a certified nursing assistant of five years, explained that “We take pride in what we do, but we need stability in our lives. We have to provide for ourselves and our families. We will stand in unity until we win a good contract!”

The action kicked off at 2 pm, with evening-shift workers coming in an hour early to participate before they began work. At 3 pm, the crowd swelled in size as CNAs, housekeepers, dietary aides and other workers clocked out and headed straight for the picket line.

Members reported that management tried to discourage people from participating in the picket by calling a meeting and offering free sandwiches, but workers saw this as a transparent ploy to weaken the Union and came to the action with an even greater resolve to win a fair contract.

Elected officials joined union members in front of the facility to voice their support and encourage the company to make a fair offer. Present were Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, Freeholder Brendan Gill, and Newark Councilmen Luis Quintana and Anibal Ramos Jr.

“Everyone deserves a raise once in a while. Every sensible person acknowledges that,” said Assemblyman Coutinho. “I'm going to do what I can to find a solution. I will be in contact with the ownership of Forest Hill to make sure that caregivers can reach a fair settlement.”

“As ward councilman, I can attest to the value of having Forest Hill in our community, as your job is to care for some of the most needy people in our city,” said Councilman Ramos. “I stand here with you for good benefits and fair wages.”

1199 members from nursing homes across New Jersey came to show solidarity with Forest Hill workers. These included members from Alameda Center in Perth Amboy, Morris Hills Center in Morristown, New Vista Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Newark, Newark Extended Care in Newark, Plaza Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Elizabeth, and Westfield Center in Westfield.

Also attending the rally were activists from New Jersey Communities United and the People's Organization for Progress.

With broad support from the community and elected leaders, 1199SEIU members are determined to win a big victory at Forest Hill and will continue the fight to make sure that all nursing home caregivers are compensated fairly and have dignity and respect in the workplace.