Fired Nursing Assistant Demands Labor Rights

by Aliyya Swaby via New Haven Independent

Dina Lara delivered 9,000 petitions to the police officers blocking the entrance of her former place of employment—after leading a protest demanding better treatment for workers.

She and a group of several other labor activists picketed Family Care VNA & Home Care on Blake Street Wednesday morning, arguing Lara had been fired for speaking out for labor rights and should be compensated. The petition asked that Family Care raise its wages to $15 an hour, provide paid sick days for all workers and guarantee regular and predictable schedules.

Family Care declined to comment on Lara’s specific demands or history with the company.

A certified nursing assistant with Family Care for three years, Lara needed emergency gallbladder surgery in late February. After the operation, she took just a few days of sick time to recover, though her doctor said she needed two weeks to recover. In May, she took off another few days to drain an abscess in her right breast. And then in June, she had to go back to the hospital to take care of complications from the procedure.

“After that, my life was made hell by Family Care,” she said. She had taken less than 10 sick days over three years at the company and was making $10 an hour.

Her employers cut her hours from more than 50 to less than 15, she said. Every couple of weeks, management would call her to talk about her absences, she said.

Then, she met a client who had contacts in labor activism and connected her with Connecticut Working Families. She began to speak up in favor of workplace protections such as Paid Family and Medical Leave and participate in press events with local and state politicians.

She said Family Care fired her because she was vocal about her treatment there. “Many of my co-workers want to fight the fight but they’re afraid of losing their job the way I did,” she said. For three years, “I put up with it because I like what I do.”

Members of Connecticut Working Families and other organizations worked together to gather signatures for the petition supporting Lara, said Lindsay Farrell, CWF state director. Protesters also asked for a meeting in person between the company and Lara, but Family Care declined to meet with them Wednesday morning.

When contacted by the Independent, Family Care representatives said they would not comment on a former employee’s specific situation, but that the company is “confident that it has complied with all applicable laws … Patient safety remains our main concern.”

Police officers stood just inside the office’s main entrance and kept protesters from entering. Before the protest started, Officer Scott Durkin offered to serve as the intermediary and deliver the petitions to Family Care. He went back inside to wait.

When the protest ended with no sign of the officer re-emerging, Lara and Farrell decided to hand over the petitions themselves. They walked down the parking lot and around to the back of the building.

Officer Durkin met them at the door and took the stack of paper, asking the protesters to wait outside. Lara peered inside to make sure the managers had accepted the petitions, then smiled, nodded and headed back down the stairs.