First Contract Fight —
Vermont State Legislators
Call for Statewide
Investigation of CPL
Eight Vermont state legislators recently called upon the state’s
auditor of accounts to launch a statewide investigation into CPL/REIT, the
corporation which owns Berlin Health and Rehabilitation. UE helped the workers
of Berlin organize over a year ago and new Local 254 has been struggling to
achieve a fair first contract ever since. CPL owns seven nursing homes in Vermont and more than
one in four of Vermont’s nursing home residents resides in a CPL-owned
The call for a statewide investigation stems from a number of
complaints legislators have received from constituents. Elected officials
believe that current state oversight practices of nursing homes may be
inadequate to catch lawbreaking companies. In a letter to the state’s
auditor, the legislators said that they "have heard concerns from
community members, workers in the facilities and/or residents’ families
about the care" provided in CPL facilities. The legislators also said
that "the seriousness of these concerns is sufficient to question the
efficacy of the state’s current oversight process."
Appearing at a well-attended press conference, four of the
legislators answered reporters’ questions about the need for the
investigation. State Rep. Michael Obuchowski of Rockingham, told the
press that he’s concerned about the state’s inspection process. Almost all
nursing home inspections are conducted during the day, he noted; nursing homes
are warned before inspectors appear. Obuchowski and others suggested that
surprise inspections during the night and on weekends might yield a more
accurate view of staffing levels and other problems at CPL facilities.
The legislators targeted CPL, State Rep. Steve Hingtgen
of Burlington said, because constituents have complained about care in these
facilities. "This is a for-profit company very interested in the bottom
line," Represenative Hingtgen said. "We’ve got enough evidence to
move forward with at least these [CPL owned] facilities."
A few days following the delivery of the letter and the press
conference, Vermont’s Auditor of Accounts, Elizabeth Ready, announced
that her office will examine the state’s oversight provisions of nursing
homes. Ready implied that her office would investigate all nursing homes
rather than just CPL. State Rep. Michael Obuchowski said he and other
legislators want the auditor to focus on CPL. "What we’re looking for
is an examination of CPL and primarily because that’s where the complaints
are coming from."
Crystal Breer, Local 254 chief steward, told reporters
that the company needs to be investigated. In her ten years at the facility,
Breer said, she has never seen a surprise inspection by the state. Further,
the nurses’ aides are told days in advance, and staffing problems are
suddenly solved for the limited time the state is inside the nursing home.
After the state leaves, staffing drops again and the aides again struggle to
provide the minimum care needed for residents.
Legislators believe that care suffers in all CPL-owned homes.
The only reason why so much is known about Berlin is because those workers are
unionized and thus able to speak out without fear of reprisal. Legislators,
the Vermont Workers Centers and the UE have received numerous complaints and
heard many concerns from those associated with other CPL homes but these
concerned workers do not enjoy the same job security as Berlin workers.
Local 254 members hope that the auditor focuses her
investigations on CPL and that the findings of the investigation are used to
improve care for residents and workers at all of this companies’ facilities.
CPL is a Canadian company with 70 nursing homes in Canada and
20 in the U.S. Ninety-five percent of CPL’s Canadian facilities are
unionized. Berlin Health & Rehab is the first of the company’s U.S.
operations to organize. The company is demanding that unionized workers accept
an open shop, give up some pay bonuses and accept unacceptable raises in its
first contract. The workers of Berlin are determined to win a fair first
contract and to win the same rights on the jobs that their Canadian
The call for the state investigation into CPL was made by
state senators Vincent Illuzi and Janet Munt and by state
representatives Michael Obuchowski, Elaine Alfano, Donny Osman, Steve
Hingtgen, David Zuckerman, and Bob Kiss. The legislators hope
that the investigation will be completed by the time the next state
legislation session begins in January.
UE News - 11/01