Forming a union “shouldn’t have been this hard,” aide tells NLRB

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In September 2013, an overwhelming majority of the home health aides at the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut signed union cards and a public petition asking for voluntary recognition. When their request was summarily denied, they filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to call for an election. Despite delays and 54 days of anti-union harassment from their employer, 25 out of 26 aides came out to vote, and 23 voted to join the VNASC Federation of Registered Nurses, Local 5119/AFT. In April 2014, Donna Miller, the home health aide who organized her colleagues, testified before the NLRB about her experience. Miller also shares her story here.

Donna Miller at the NLRB Hearing

I have always gravitated toward older people, even when I was young. I became a certified nursing assistant as a stepping stone to becoming a registered nurse, but I have been a CNA for 23 years because I love my job. I really enjoy taking care of people, especially in the comfort of their own home. I have the privilege of spending an hour or two with them a few days a week. I celebrate their successes and am able to motivate them to achieve their goals. I also have clients at the end of life. This is especially rewarding because I am able to provide comfort and ensure they can be in their home where they want to be. Right now, I am taking classes to pursue that dream of being a registered nurse. I'm getting older, and this work is getting more difficult. I want to stay with patient care, but I'll take care of my patients' needs in a different way.

I have worked for the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut for 10 years. In the summer of 2013, I decided it was time for a change. I saw how much better the nurses were treated and realized it was because they had a union and they had a voice. This made me realize that we needed a union and we needed a voice, so I got the ball rolling. I talked to my co-workers and we were all on the same page, so we contacted AFT Connecticut, the union that represented the nurses.

We had a list of questions, and they were all answered. Within two weeks, a majority of us decided we wanted to join the union. We signed union cards and a petition, and we asked management to recognize our union and begin the bargaining process. It was a clear majority, but management said no.

So we wore buttons declaring our solidarity to a staff meeting, and we signed the petition in the parking lot in full view of management and took a picture. The answer was still no.

A lot of aides were cornered by management who tried to change their minds. We got fliers with pictures of groceries on them tucked into our work schedules asking if we could afford union dues. The president of the company wrote hand-written letters—some in Spanish for the bilingual aides—and mailed them to our homes, encouraging us to vote no. But we were not intimidated. The nurses were supportive and encouraging.

A lot of aides were scared of losing their jobs. People called me with questions, and I would encourage them and let them know we were going to get what we deserve. I did what I could to keep them on board. I was scared too, but I was also sick of being treated so unfairly.

I have been given the opportunity to speak in front of the five-member NLRB appointed by President Obama. I want to tell them how challenging it is to organize a union. It is very hard for workers to stand up to their bosses and ask for a voice. We need our government to be there for the workers to facilitate the process of forming a union. It should not have been this hard.

We sat on the sidelines and watched the nurses who are unionized get increased pay, no take-backs and fair work hours, while we have had benefits taken away, work hours decreased and no significant increase in pay. We had no voice with any change in our working conditions, but I believe all this will change with our first contract. [Photo by Damon Hunter/NLRB]

April 14, 2014