Union objects to voting delay for VNA home health aides

Waterford - The union seeking to organize home health aides at the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut is objecting to a two-week delay of the union election, charging that VNA administration is deliberately stalling to gain time to urge workers not to support the union.

The union, AFT Connecticut, also filed two unfair labor practice charges against the VNA last week.

The election had been scheduled for last Friday, but is now slated for Nov. 8. Twenty-six aides would be eligible to participate.

The original Oct. 25 date was set before the government shutdown closed the Hartford offices of the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB informed both sides that if the government did not reopen by Oct. 15, the vote would have to be postponed.

When the government reopened Oct. 16, however, the NLRB said it could go ahead with the Oct. 25 vote if the VNA and the union agreed. Matt O'Connor, spokesman for AFT Connecticut, said workers wanted the vote to go forward and management could have been prepared, but wants to use the extra time to continue "anti-union activities."

"They've been talking to us about it one-on-one and in group meetings - and they've put out a new piece of anti-union literature every week," aide Donna Miller said in a union news release.

Mary Lenzini, president of the VNA, said she requested the Nov. 8 vote date to give her agency time to properly inform workers and allow for the supervisor of the home health aides to complete scheduled surgery and recover so she could be on hand for the election. Before the shutdown, notices were sent out informing the aides of the delay.

In the unfair labor practice charges filed with the NLRB, the union says the VNA has "created the impression of surveillance of employees engaged in union activity" and has "an overly broad communications policy." O'Connor said VNA administrators have made "intimidating comments" to workers and have appeared to be trying to listen to aides' off-hours conversations about the union. Administrators have also told aides not to discuss their hourly pay rates among themselves, citing a section of the agency's employee handbook, O'Connor said.

"It doesn't have the common-sense limits we think it should," he said of the policy in the handbook.

Lenzini said the administration has informed aides that it doesn't believe a union is necessary, but has not made any new overtures since the election was delayed.

"I haven't done anything to interfere with the rights of people who work here," she said. "I haven't done anything to prevent anybody from getting the information they need. I recognize that people have the right to organize, but that doesn't mean we have to support the union."

One of her main concerns, she said, is the $540 in annual union dues that she said "would be difficult for some of our aides."

The VNA has maintained a cordial relationship with the AFT local that represents its nurses, and has "never come close to a strike," she said. If a union is approved for the aides, she hopes for a similarly cordial relationship.

j.benson@theday.com

Editor's note: AFT Connecticut spokesman Matt O’Connor said the union anticipates home health aides at the Visiting Nurse Association of Southeastern Connecticut would pay about $240 per year in annual dues if they vote to form a union, about half the amount that VNA nurses in the union pay.

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