Vita Healthcare, the new owner of Somerton Center in Philadelphia and Garden Spring Center in Willow Grove, slashed wages and benefits for services workers and introduced a new healthcare plan that drastically raises costs for employees.
On Friday, June 22, caregivers at Somerton Center in Philadelphia and Garden Spring Center in Willow Grove took to the streets to hold informational pickets in front of their respective facilities. The workers demanded that the new owner of the nursing homes, New Jersey-based Vita Healthcare Group, respect the roles of all workers at both facilities and returns the wages and affordable health insurance the company took from them.
Vita Healthcare acquired Somerton and Garden Spring earlier this month and immediately slashed wages for the lowest-paid employees — dietary aides, housekeepers, and laundry workers. Wages for housekeeping and laundry workers are now capped at $12.50 an hour, with dietary workers capped at $12.55. For some employees who had been at their jobs for decades and were making up to $18 an hour, this was a pay cut of about $11,000 a year.
“These wage cuts are insulting and hurtful,” said Anthony Lambert, a housekeeper at Somerton Center. “These wage cuts say, ‘Because you are a housekeeper you are not valuable, you are not respected, you do not deserve fair pay.’ I have worked here for 23 years and know my coworkers and I deserve the higher wages we’ve fought to maintain through our union.”
“I just don’t know how I will pay for anything with cuts like these,” said Ivorene Walker, a housekeeper at Garden Spring. “I am losing thousands of dollars in earnings and then expected to pay hundreds more for health insurance that I won’t even be able to use if I actually do get sick or hurt.”
Other changes include Vita Healthcare’s decision to place all employees on a 90-day probation, regardless of how long they have been with the nursing home, essentially making them ‘at-will’ employees. This gives these workers no recourse to challenge unfair termination. Vita Healthcare has already notified several employees that they would not be “re-hired,” offering no clear explanation or advance notice and leaving caregivers uncertain about the security of their jobs and their financial futures.
Vita Healthcare appears unconcerned about how these changes will impact the company’s ability to retain qualified workers in these two nursing homes.
The approximately 200 caregivers at Somerton Center and Garden Spring Center are members of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. The workers are demanding Vita Healthcare honor their union contract and restore living wages and affordable healthcare costs in order to maintain family-sustaining jobs and quality resident care at these nursing homes.