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Union Chief Testifies In Lawsuit Vs. State

The Hartford Courant, 11 June 2002

BRIDGEPORT -- The head of a union suing Gov. John G. Rowland over the use of taxpayer-funded replacement workers during a nursing home strike last year took the stand Monday as the case went to trial.

Jerry Brown, president of the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, contends that the state illegally interfered in contract negotiations by paying for replacement workers to care for residents at 39 nursing private homes.

The union sued Rowland and Patricia Wilson-Coker, commissioner of the Department of Social Services. It is seeking a ruling in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport that would bar the use of public money in labor disputes involving a private company.

The state spent about $27 million for replacement workers and other expenses during the two-week strike in May 2001.

Chris Cooper, a spokesman for Rowland, said Sunday that the governor stepped in to ensure that people living in these facilities received adequate care.

When workers decide to strike and leave a nursing home without staffing, it's the governor's responsibility to see that they get appropriate care, he said. That's the only reason he called in those replacement workers.

Cooper said Rowland is looking forward to testifying in the case. He is scheduled to take the stand on June 25.

Jennifer Smith, a spokeswoman for the union, said Rowland failed to seek a settlement and bring the two sides together. She said the state money served to prolong the strike.

It's a little disingenuous for the governor to claim he's taking care of patients, when nursing home workers had been pointing out the problem of low staffing for months and months beforehand, she said.