Chants of “What do we want? Contracts! When do we want it? Now!” echoed outside of the AristaCare Health Services facility in Linden.
“We’ve been working for them for many years and we can’t even get a fair contract, we can’t even get our health. I feel so bad, I feel so bad,” said health care worker Darlene Brown.
It’s 7 o’clock in the morning. The temperature is 17 degrees. But, Brown says nothing will stop them from marching for their rights.
This summer, the chain AristaCare Health Services bought the facility where they work. Since that time, there have been changes including a new health benefits plan these workers say is not affordable.
“So many of these workers are earning about $12 an hour and the health insurance cost $1,000 a month. So for many people more than half of their paycheck would have to go toward health insurance,” said Milly Silva, executive vice president of 1199SEIU.
Thea Paul says she has to sacrifice her health because she wouldn’t be able to also afford rent and food for her family.
“I have to beg somebody to give me my medicine,” Paul said. “They took all of our benefits. They took our sick days, our personal days, our vacation days. They took everything that we have.”
“It is a crime to come in and buy this place if you can’t afford to take care of the people that make it happen,” said State Sen. Joseph Cryan.
As momentum picked up outside, people were chatting inside the nursing home. An administrator for the facility read a statement saying it is fully staffed and will continue to serve the residents.
“They have employees from an agency to try to replace us for a day. Employees that don’t know our patients, that we’ve known for years and years,” said health care worker Danny Mota.
“My aunt is on the dementia floor. She’s used to seeing certain aids you know on a daily basis. They have somebody in there now that’s a stranger to them. People with dementia, they get combative,” said Katherine Alexander, the family member of a resident.
“We’re negotiating, looking for a fair contract, and that’s where we are,” said John Pilek, administrator for AristaCare Health Services. “We haven’t come to a contract where we’ve agreed on both sides.”
“I’m one of the union representatives who was at negotiations on Friday. It is true that we’re in negotiations. It is also true that management has said they’re not going to change their proposal,” said Silva.
But the nursing assistants, restorative and dietary aides and housekeepers say that won’t stop them from making their voices heard on the day on where we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — a man who did the same.