Why NJ Nursing Home Workers Are Striking

November 11, 2021

By Nadine Clerge-Remy, Kellee Grungo, Damian Rivera, and Sarah Stallings

complete care workers.pngNadine Clerge-Remy, Kellee Grungo, Damian Rivera, and Sarah Stallings are members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East who work at Complete Care at Marcella in Burlington Township, NJ.

They call us “healthcare heroes,” but hundreds of nursing home workers in New Jersey are feeling abandoned after sacrificing so much over the past year and a half. At the height of the pandemic last spring, our nursing home, Marcella Center in Burlington Township, was purchased by a private equity-backed firm, Complete Care Management. The new owner decided to immediately eliminate our affordable health insurance, our pension contributions, our educational benefits, and much of our paid time off.

These devastating cuts blindsided us at a time when we were completely preoccupied with fighting a deadly virus at our workplace. COVID-19 infected 88 of our nursing home’s residents and 44 staff. Thirty-seven of our beloved residents and one of our co-workers died. The fear, stress, exhaustion, and heartbreak that all of us experienced is something that we will never forget.

Today, we are relieved to say that our nursing home is COVID-free. But our struggle for the basic right to decent health care and fair wages, as frontline healthcare workers ourselves, is not over. Despite many months of pleading with management, writing petitions, and organizing pickets, our concerns have been ignored. Complete Care has also failed to provide information that we need and are entitled to in connection with our efforts to negotiate a fair contract. The police were even called on us last month when two dozen of our co-workers went to our administrator’s office to ask about better health care.

On November 17 at 6AM, workers at our institution are going on a 24-hour strike to protest Complete Care Management’s unfair labor practices and cuts to our critical benefits. We are striking alongside our colleagues at a sister facility, Complete Care at Green Knoll in Bridgewater, who are facing similar hardships. We have given 10-day notice to management, as required by law, to provide time for the company to plan for the continuity of patient care.

We do not make this decision lightly and have done all we can to avoid a strike. Financial and healthcare difficulties have caused many of our co-workers to quit, causing serious staffing shortages that are impacting the quality of patient care. We simply cannot continue working under conditions that prevent us from caring for ourselves, our patients, and our own families in the way we all deserve.

Complete Care has plenty of resources to treat their employees right. They are now the largest operator of skilled nursing facilities in New Jersey, having purchased more than a dozen over the past year. They are cutting corners at our facility so they can finance the acquisition of new homes elsewhere, and that isn’t right—not for workers or our patients.

We would much prefer to stay by our residents’ bedsides and provide the care and comfort that they are accustomed to. But we are striking for them as much as we are for ourselves; we know that good jobs in nursing homes are essential to ensuring a stable and healthy workforce needed to meet the needs of an aging society.

We are proud to join the chorus of strikes happening all across the country this fall— from John Deere workers in Davenport, to hospital workers in Buffalo, film crews in Los Angeles to McDonalds workers in Detroit. Degrading working conditions and poverty wages are not acceptable anywhere, especially not in the very places where our communities’ most vulnerable seniors call home.

We, alongside our fellow union members at nursing homes employed by Complete Care Management, intend to do everything in our power to end this travesty in our nursing homes and improve standards for quality care and good jobs in New Jersey’s long-term care system. We need your support. Please sign our petition at https://bit.ly/SupportNJcaregivers to call on Complete Care Management and CEO Sam Stein to do the right thing for their workers and their patients.