We are proud to announce that on Friday, July 27th, the hardworking certified nursing assistants, med-techs, dietary, activities, physical therapy aides, laundry and housekeeping workers at Summit Commons nursing home, located in Providence, Rhode Island, unanimously voted to approve their first union contract. Summit Commons, which is owned by Athena Health Care Systems, becomes the first nursing home in the company to organize and be covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Athena Health Care Systems operates more than 50 nursing homes across New England. The workers voted to join UFCW Local 328 in November 2016, despite the fact the company waged an aggressive anti-union campaign to discourage workers from voting yes.
Negotiations began in early 2017 and as time went on progress slowed. The company knew that if the workers at Summit Commons successfully made improvements to their benefits and working conditions, other workers throughout the company would begin to come together as well. We knew that we needed to apply pressure and grow our coalition of support. Earlier this year, we started to do just that. We began reaching out to the families of residents in Athena-owned nursing homes across the region. The issues the workers were fighting for were also issues important to the families: safer staffing, improving continuity of care and reducing the revolving door of employment. Rainer Kau, who is a loved one of a resident of Athena, stood in solidarity with the workers by saying “I fully support your campaign for better staffing, respect and dignity. Thank you for taking care of the ones who matter most to us”.
The support the workers at Summit Commons received from the families of residents was truly inspiring. We received hundreds of signatures on a petition that called on the company to provide safer staffing and to come to the table with a better deal at Summit Commons. Not only did they sign our petition but they also called the company and urged them to be a responsible employer.
The workers at Summit Commons continued to remain strong throughout this campaign. The effort inside was led by Aminata Kamara, Ti-Mia Tavares, Aletha Browne & Elizabeth Stewart, all who served on the worker negotiating committee. They never gave up the fight for a contract that respects the workers and the residents they care for.
As our coalition of support grew, the company began to take notice. In May 2018, the owner of the company came to the table for the very first time. It quickly became clear to us that he was there with the intention of getting the contract settled. Negotiations moved quickly from that point on. We are proud to say that on June 29th we reached a tentative agreement that was then unanimously ratified by the workers in July. “Joining the UFCW was the best decision we could have made for ourselves, our families and the residents we love so much. It was a difficult struggle but worth every second”, said Aminata Kamara, after the contract was ratified.
The agreement contains wage increases in each year of the three-year contract, an increase in shift differential pay, higher starting rates, a uniform allowance and time and a half after 12 hours. “The hardworking staff at Summit Commons provide an important service to our community by taking care of our loved ones. We are proud of what they achieved by sticking together. They’ve earned the right to a better life and we welcome them into our union family”, said Domenic Pontarelli, Secretary-Treasurer of UFCW Local 328 and lead negotiator.
As we welcome the ninety hardworking employees of Summit Commons into our union family, we will continue to engage with other Athena nursing home workers throughout the region so they too can build a better life as well.