Home health aides vote to join AFT Connecticut

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Home health aides with the Visiting Nurses Association of Southeastern Connecticut said "Union Yes!" with an overwhelming vote to join AFT Connecticut Local 5119 on Nov. 8. The home health aides cast their ballots eight weeks after seeking voluntary recognition of their choice to form a union.

"For me, this decision was always about quality care for our patients," says Griselle Escelara, an aide who has delivered home health services for seven years. "We needed a voice to advocate for ourselves and our clients and their families. Now we can join forces with our nurses to make home care even better and more available to families that depend on us."

The 26 home health aides are the newest members of Local 5119, which has represented the nurses of the VNA of Southeastern Connecticut for more than 20 years. One of the reasons the aides decided to join the union was the failure of the Lawrence & Memorial Corporation, which owns the VNA of Southeastern Connecticut, to invest in the workers by providing them with livable wages or access to affordable, quality healthcare. Starting hourly pay is currently $11, well below the region's minimum family-sustaining wage as determined by the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute. Low wages also keep medical insurance coverage out of reach for many of the full-time permanent employees, and aides considered "per diem" are denied the benefit.

"I voted 'yes' for a shot at making the job I love one I can afford to keep doing," says Donna Miller, a home health aide with 10 years of experience. "The low wages and expensive healthcare were making it tough for me to hang on. Now I can tell my patients that I will be there for them when they need me."

"It was a long time coming, but I'm glad this day has finally arrived," says Cindy Hollis, a home health aide who has served patients in the region for seven years. "I would have preferred that management show us a little more respect in this process. But now that we're united and organized, it's time to look ahead and move forward."

Melodie Peters, an LPN and president of AFT Connecticut, says the election win is a new day for home healthcare in Southeastern Connecticut. "This vote will go a long way toward helping caregivers win the respect and dignity they deserve from their employer. With that, they can work with the VNA's nurses and patients to build a stronger consumer-directed home care program for the community," says Peters, who is also a former state senator from the region.

Expansion of home-based care options, which are more cost-effective than nursing home settings, can bring potential savings to taxpayers. The region's population of elderly residents is expected to rise exponentially in the next 10 years, and the demand for home care services is anticipated to skyrocket. Families of people with disabilities and chronic diseases are also increasingly choosing to receive the care they need in their homes instead of institutional facilities. Investing in the creation of good home care jobs will help ensure that a stable workforce of reliable home caregivers is in place to meet the growing need.  [AFT Connecticut press release]

Nov. 12, 2013