Union dues: Workers’ best investment

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‘UNION! UNION! UNION!’ was the chant of Brenda Davis, a Certified Nursing Assistant and SEIU Healthcare shop steward at Christian Care Home, as she walked to the front of the Faith/Labor Alliance meeting last week to report on the SEIU Missouri Healthcare victory at the home following a 104-day strike. – Philip Deitch photo

Worker solidarity, strong support from their union led SEIU Healthcare workers to victory in Christian Care Home strike

By ED FINKELSTEIN

Publisher

“Union dues are our best investment –– UNION!” was the victory cry of Brenda Davis, a Certified Nursing Assistant and shop steward, speaking to the March 22 Faith/Labor Alliance breakfast where she expressed the joy of workers winning a new contract at Christian Care Home in Ferguson after a 104-day unfair labor practices strike.

To a standing ovation, she praised her fellow workers for standing together, and thanked their union, SEIU Healthcare Missouri, the St. Louis area Labor Movement, faith leaders, local politicians and community residents for their support during the difficult strike by the nursing home’s workers who decided they’d had enough of low pay, walked out and stood together in a strike that stretched through the holidays and in severe cold weather.

“We could not have done it without your support,” Davis told the more than 80 faith, Labor and community leaders at the breakfast meeting at Maggie O’Brien’s restaurant in downtown St. Louis.

WORKER UNITY IN TOUGH TIMES

Davis paid tribute to the workers at Christian Care Home for their unity in the face of tough times, and their union for its support. She had special praise for SEIU Healthcare Missouri Director Lenny Jones, who kept them energized and focused.

Davis and Jones and several of the workers attended the St. Louis Labor Council’s delegates’ meeting earlier in the week to discuss what they’d accomplished and thank fellow union members and faith leaders for their support.

About 65 full-time and 25 part-time nursing assistants, housekeepers and dietary workers at the home went on strike Dec. 1 after contract negotiations with the Christian Woman’s Benevolent Association, which manages the home, broke down.

UNFAIR LABOR PRACTICES

SEIU Healthcare had been trying to negotiate a new contract since July but the home’s management refused to negotiate in good faith. The workers’ contract expired in early November.

The union filed an Unfair Labor Practices complaint against management of the home charging management has violated the conditions of the workers’ existing contract by:

• Making unilateral changes to staffing, hours and scheduling without bargaining with the union,

• Canceling or not allowing employees to use their vacation time,

• Failing to answer 13 outstanding grievances,

• Cancelling scheduled bargaining meetings, and refusing to make representatives available for bargaining,

• Failing to provide relevant information to the union in a timely manner, and

• Restricting workers in the exercise of their rights.

NLRB RULING FORCED MANAGEMENT BACK TO THE TABLE

It was the union’s filing, and winning, of the Unfair Labor Practice charges that forced the home’s management back to the bargaining table.

The St. Louis regional office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found merit to the multiple unfair labor practices charges as well as charges that Christian Care Home unlawfully threatened to fire employees for joining the strike and unlawfully denied strikers accrued benefits after the start of the strike.

After that, had the Christian Woman’s Benevolent Association not agreed to a contract settlement, there would have been a public trial, something management obviously wanted to avoid.

UNION DUES: WORKERS’ ‘BEST INVESTMENT’

Davis said union dues are the best investment a worker can make to continue to have a voice on the job, ensure fair treatment and have someone to fight for you when there are problems.

“The union provided us with the best lawyers, the best negotiators and all the support,” Davis said.

To Labor, faith and community leaders, Davis said, “You all coming to our picket lines, offering real and moral support – we thank you.”

FOR A BETTER COMMUNITY

Missouri State Representative Bruce Franks Jr. (D-St. Louis) said, “From day one of their strike, I was impressed with how the workers were on the picket line not just for themselves, but for the whole community.”

State Representative Cora Faith Walker (D-Ferguson), a frequent visitor to the picket line who tried more than once to meet Christian Care management on the strikers’ and residents’ behalf, said, “I am inspired by the workers’ bravery and persistence. They won this victory for themselves and for the home’s residents by standing strong and not backing down.”

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