Health-care provider Enable focus of labor protest

Union wants to organize home-health aides

By: David Campbell
   A union has leveled charges of improper labor practices, Medicaid fraud and patient neglect against West Windsor-based health-care provider Enable Inc., which has denied any wrongdoing.
   Around 50 health-care workers, union supporters and residents of group homes serviced by the agency, which provides services for people with disabilities, gathered outside Enable’s Roszel Road offices Wednesday flying a giant, 15-foot, helium-inflated rat to protest what they claim is a growing list of worker and patient abuses by Enable.
   "It is appalling that an agency that gets state money seems to have violated almost every law you can imagine," said Communications Workers of America Local 1034 President Carla Katz. "This is truly a rat employer."
   Company Executive Director Joyce Edwards denied the union’s claims, noting that only a small handful of protesters last week were Enable employees, with outside union members comprising the bulk of the crowd.
   "Enable is a not-for-profit that has a strong history of extremely high-quality services,"Ms. Edwards said. "We have always made every effort to comply with the requirements of the law in all respects and we have always done that."
   The protest was organized by the 15,000-member Communications Workers of America Local 1034, which has begun efforts to unionize the company’s roughly 100 home-health aides, said Organizing Director Tim Dubnau.
   Charges of racial discrimination have been filed with the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights, and charges of improper job terminations have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board, Mr. Dubnau said.
   In addition, he said, complaints by workers of Medicaid fraud and mistreatment of residents have been lodged with the state Attorney General’s office.
   "We’ve had various residents who have had to call 9-1-1 because they’re not being cared for by Enable," Mr. Dubnau said.
   According to the organizing director, almost a dozen Enable workers say they were fired for promoting the union at work, terminations he said violate the National Labor Relations Act, or because they approached management to complain about possible Medicaid fraud.
   "Everyone who wears a union button gets fired," Mr. Dubnau said.
   Some residents have complained Enable "abruptly" canceled their Medicaid, leaving some disabled residents alone for extended periods, and around 10 of the Enable workers fired claimed they were let go after they sent a letter to company board President Audrey Witosky raising concerns about Medicaid fraud, according to the union.
   The union also has charged Enable with racial discrimination at the Project Freedom independent-living apartments in Robbinsville it staffs, where Mr. Dubnau said black employees worked 3,000 weekend hours while a white employee logged only two weekend hours.
   Ms. Edwards said Enable has always complied with Medicaid regulations and has never neglected clients or infringed upon employees’ right to organize.
   "The employees of Enable under the law and with our support have a right to organize if they choose," she said. "They have the right to do that and they have the right not to do that."
   Ms. Edwards said the company recently had to discontinue Medicaid services at the Project Freedom facility in Robbinsville, which she said resulted in reduced hours or job termination for 11 employees.
   She said Enable was required to do so after an exhaustive search for a registered nurse to administer the program, required by Medicaid, was unsuccessful.
   Ms. Edwards said the 12 affected Project Freedom residents are being served by other home-health-care providers, and noted that Enable will continue to provide services at the Robbinsville site that do not require supervision of a registered nurse.