UE triumphed yesterday in what may have been our hardest
fought election contest of the year.
A group of 110 scrappy nursing home workers in Berlin,
Vermont, overcame not one but two unionbusters to win UE representation at
Berlin Health and Rehabilitation. The vote was 54 to 46, with four challenged
ballots. Television and newspaper reports described the victory as
"historic", noting that Berlin Health and Rehabilitation has become
the first nursing home ever organized in the state of Vermont. Health care is
one of the biggest low-wage employers in Vermont, and more 10,000 people work
in Vermont nursing homes.
These newest UE members, licensed nursing assistants, kitchen,
and maintenance workers, fought to build their union in order to gain greater
dignity and respect and resolve problems including low pay, unsafe working
conditions, chronic understaffing, and unaffordable health care. With a caravan of honking cars, the workers
left just after five o’clock to celebrate at a nearby hotel.
"Keys to UE's success included solid, precise organizing,
a strong and sizeable organizing committee, a heavy home visiting schedule and
broad community and political support," said UE Director of Organization
Bob Kingsley. "This victory in Vermont sends us toward our 65th
convention on an extended winning streak which has brought UE representation
to more 1,600 workers
to work during the past year," he added.
A release issued yesterday by the Workers' Center in Barre,
Vermont called the workers an "incredible bunch of women" in
crediting them with the victory, along with "the 300 people who signed
the appeal to fairness ... the members of Teamsters Local 597 ... AFSCME Local
1369 ... the Vermont-NEA members who supported [the workers] ... the Barre
City Democratic Committee ... the Copley nurses, [and] Vermont State Employees
Association members" as well as members of the clergy and state
representatives who actively supported the campaign. Also credited with
assisting in the campaign were Vermont state auditor Ed Flanagan, independent gubernatorial
candidate Anthony Pollina and Vermont Congressman Bernie Sanders. The organizing drive also
received important help from UE rank-and-file members, including members from
the recently organized Grafton County nursing home in nearby New Hampshire.
The Workers’ Center release went on to note: "Workers
faced a very strong union busting campaign which included two different
unionbusting firms, repeated 'captive audience' meetings, employee bribes,
one-on-one meetings, an administrator's suicide threat, and much more. They
held strong — and became the first nursing home workers to form a union in
Vermont!" The victory came despite the unionbusting efforts of the
well-known law firm of Jackson-Lewis and a second anti-union consultant group
out of New York.
The nursing home workers now must turn their attention to
another hard fight, said the Workers’ Center, for a fair first union
contract. Berlin Health and Rehabilitation is owned by a multinational
for-profit chain, CPL/REIT. "Your help will be needed to win a just fair
contract," said the release.
Field Organizer Andrew Trip and International Representative
Kim Lawson led the campaign with important assistance from District 2 staff,
officers, local leaders and members.
UE News Online - 08/11/00