September 8, 2023

Brickyard Healthcare nursing home workers try to drum up community support in contract fight

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The company and union return to the negotiating table next week. - Adam Yahya Rayes/IPB News

The company and union return to the negotiating table next week.

Adam Yahya Rayes/IPB News

Union staff at a northwest Indiana nursing home might strike over their first contract. The workers and Teamsters Local 135 allege Brickyard Healthcare refuses to negotiate on more affordable health insurance. Workers tried to drum up community support on Thursday by distributing fliers outside the Terrace Care Center Nursing Home in La Porte.

In interviews, the workers said they hoped distributing fliers and getting community members involved would show Brickyard that the union is “united” and “serious” about potentially going on strike.

The staff voted in August to authorize a strike. They have been negotiating their first contract with Brickyard Healthcare since 2022. Strike authorizations don’t guarantee that a work stoppage will happen, but they do allow union officials to call a strike in the future if contract negotiations fail.

Most aspects of the contract have been agreed upon, except health care.

Jacob See works at the home as a medical technician. He said in an August interview he pays about $750 a month for coverage for himself, his wife and his child through a plan Brickyard offers from UMR.

At about $9,000 a year, See’s annual contribution is significantly higher than Indiana’s average annual employee contribution for family coverage of $5,736, according to 2019-2021 three-year estimates from the latest federal Medical Expenditure Panel Survey.

Despite the cost, See said that coverage is frequently denied.

READ MORE: Nursing home, manufacturing workers separately test power of strike threats in local negotiations

“We have given them proposal after proposal and we have backed down and lowered our proposals. They haven't shown one bit of movement,” See said. “We know they're making the money. Why can't they help us out with this?”

Brickyard has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Local 135 President Dustin Roach said Brickyard refused to consider alternatives in contract negotiations.

“With the health care that they have now, the employer, in my opinion, almost promotes a government health care plan because their health care plan is so inferior,” he said. “We presented them with an offer that not only would save the company money, but would save their employees money.”

Nikki Cain, a certified nurse aide and 16-year Brickyard employee, said the plan frequently fails to cover enough of her medical costs.

“There's some things medically I have to wait to have done, till I can afford to pay for it,” she said. “I don't have my child on [the insurance] anymore. I only can afford myself right now.”

Cain said the current tentative contract would provide a $ 3-per-hour raise. Her starting wage 16 years ago was about $9.50. It has since increased for her and her coworkers to more than $20 an hour, but she said the extra $3 will make a big difference in her life. After years of low pay and poor health care coverage, Cain said she has thought about leaving for a different job.

“I could have gone somewhere else,” she said. “I love it here. I love the people that I care for here. I've built such a bond with these people here. I would rather be able to get some good health care than leave.”

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Kacandra Walden is a certified nurse aide who has worked at the nursing home for over a year. She said she voted in favor of authorizing the union to potentially call a strike.

“We spend a lot of our lives taking care of other people, and all we're asking in return is that we receive adequate health care,” Walden said.

The company and union return to the negotiating table next week. Local 135 President Roach said the union asked a federal mediator to get involved.

“That's typically not something that I do and it's typically not something I encourage our agents to do,” Roach said. “But because of the attitude and the disdain for their workers sitting across from them at the table, I felt like we had to get somebody else in there that maybe [Brickyard] would respect a little bit more, because I don't feel like they respect their employees sitting at the table the way that they should.”

If progress isn’t made, Roach said the union may serve the company with a 10-day notice to a potential strike. While the workers are ready to strike, Roach said he hopes to avoid it for the sake of the workers and their patients.

“At the end of the day, they just need to address this one concern because that's bull---- if they allow this one concern to hurt anybody in [the nursing home],” he said. “I can tell you a Local 135 will not allow any one of our members to lose money. So we've got a multi-million dollar strike fund and the [Teamsters] International has a strike fund. They will be well taken care of. And I hope to hell that the company takes care of the patients.”

Adam is our labor and employment reporter. Contact him at arayes@wvpe.org or follow him on Twitter at @arayesIPB.

Copyright 2023 IPB News. To see more, visit IPB News.

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