Bright Day, Historic
Victory As Berlin Rehab
Workers Vote UE
celebrate (top photo)
photo: Barb Klinger and Cathy Allen from UE
Local 278, Grafton County, N.H., came with words of support, as did Tanya
Waters from the United Nurses and Allied Professionals. The unionbusters tried
to make an issue of the strike at Copley Hospital; a registered nurse from
Copley, Waters effectively explained the reasons and value of the strike.
Bottom: A dedicated, hard-working organizing committee was crucial
to the union victory.
The sun shining brightly in the mountains hedging this central
Vermont town on Thursday, Aug. 10 matched the mood of Berlin Health and
Rehabilitation employees — but for CLP-REIT, the Canadian-based
multinational corporation that owns the nursing home, the day couldn’t have
At 5:30 that afternoon, workers’ boisterous cheers and
bosses’ tears revealed that employees of the 150-bed, for-profit home had
overcome a nasty anti-union campaign and voted for UE representation.
What’s more, the 110 licensed nursing assistants, kitchen
and maintenance workers had become the first in Vermont and the first in the
CPL chain in the United States to organize with any union. This result was
hailed as "historic" at an exuberant victory party by Pat Buckbe,
an organizing committee member, who added, "Now the folks who actually do
the work around here will get a say in how this place is run."
Berlin workers contacted UE in the spring, saying that low
wages, short staffing, lack of seniority, inadequate resident care,
unaffordable health insurance and lack of respect had to change. "I chose
this line of work because I want to care for the elderly, but right now our
residents are not getting the care they deserve and we are not being treated
with the respect we deserve," said Crystal Breer, a licensed nurse’s
aide (LNA) and organizing committee member.
When Breer and a large group of her co-workers met with the
administrator to demand that the nursing home respect the will of the
overwhelming majority of workers to join UE they were curtly told to shut up.
"You speak when I speak to you," the administrator announced. Not
content to be seen but not heard, workers at Berlin rededicated themselves to
organizing their union.
THREATS, LIES AND VIDEOTAPES
Rather than respect workers’ democratic choice, CLP-REIT
hired two high-priced, out-of-state unionbusting firms. The consultants
initiated a systematic campaign of lies, threats, intimidation, bribes and
promises in a futile attempt to eliminate majority support for UE. The
anti-union campaign included innumerable anti-union meetings and movies,
interrogation and surveillance. Workers were threatened with the loss of the
in-house day care. It was alleged that the administrator would commit suicide
if UE won. (The members of new Local 254 report the administrator is still
alive if a bit ticked off!)
Despite the high-powered anti-union campaign, which cost
CLP-REIT hundreds of thousands of dollars, the UE organizing committee
prevailed by vigorously and systematically talking to co-workers about the
issues and publicly challenging the bosses’ lies. "We never stopped
talking about short staffing and about being treated with dignity and respect,
that’s how we won," said Kerri Abbott, an LNA and organizing
Berlin Rehab workers enjoyed the support of their community,
mobilizing hundreds of local citizens, clergy and elected officials to demand
that management respect the workers’ right to organize. U.S. Rep. Bernie
Sanders, a well-known friend of working people, sent a personal letter of
Two members of newly organized Local 278, who work for the
Grafton County, N.H. nursing home, crossed the Connecticut River to encourage
Berlin workers to vote for UE.
Currently, UE Local 254, again with community support, has
begun contract negotiations — and hopes to achieve a fair contract in the
Berlin Rehab workers were assisted by Field Org. Andrew
Tripp and Intl. Rep. Kimberly Lawson, with additional assistance
from Field Organizers Heather Riemer and Rachel Wells.