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CPD In the News

| Restoring a Fair Workweek

Home care workers rally in New Haven around terminated employee

Claudina “Dina” Lara said she was fired for speaking up about the pay and working conditions for home care workers in general and taking off eight days in three years, all connected with three recent surgeries.

Lara was joined by more than a dozen supporters Wednesday, organized by the Working Families Party, which has been advocating for a $15-an-hour wage, paid sick days and predictable schedules for this group of employees.

Management at Family Care VNA & Home Care at 495 Blake St., where Lara worked for more than three years in a 28-year career, called police to keep the protesters away from its office. The protesters continued to march on the sidewalk leading into the parking lot where the company is located.

After about an hour, Lindsay Farrell, state executive director for the Working Families Party, Julio Lopez of Make the Road, which is part of the Center for Popular Democracy, and Lara approached New Haven Officer Scott Durkin, who was standing outside the care agency’s office.

Durkin passed on a petition to management signed by more than 9,000 people asking that Family Care VNA & Home Care meet with Working Families to discuss workplace protections for its employees.

“I am here today because on Aug. 3 I got terminated for exercising ... freedom of speech. I was searching for a better workplace for my co-workers, for those who are afraid to speak, because this is their only source of income to maintain food on the table and a roof over their kids’ heads,” Lara said.

The longtime certified nursing assistant has been on panels with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLaura, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Thomas E. Perez, secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, talking about the conditions that CNAs face.

Lara said she never mentioned her employer, but spoke generally about the industry and the need for a pay upgrade, benefits and schedules they can count on.

“I believe that no human being should be treated like animals, because that is what they treated us like, paying us $10 an hour. We are a big asset to the company and if not physically fit ... how can we go out there and do our jobs?” Lara asked.

“What I am searching for is justice for me and so many other workers that do the same job as I do,” she said to the crowd.

Lara said this all began when she took off two days for emergency surgery for her gallbladder on Feb. 26. Her doctor recommended she stay out of work for two to three weeks.

A message seeking comment was left with Donna Simmons, a human resource specialist at Family Care.

Lara said she ended up back in the hospital because she returned to work too early. On May 22 and June 3, she had additional surgeries for an abscess on her breast for a total of eight days missed for health problems.

Lara said she put up with the $10-an-hour pay because “I like what I do and I enjoyed working with my patients and I didn’t want to leave them hanging.”

She said after the last surgery, her hours were cut from 54 hours a week to 14 hours, putting her behind on her rent and bills.

Lara said the firing not only hurt her financially, but “has taken away what I like and what I enjoy, which is working with people.” She said she is collecting unemployment compensation. 

Lara said she feels that she was being punished for taking time off “to take care of my physical health.

She said when she was terminated, management alleged that she had used profanity in front of a client, but Lara said that was not true. She said they told her at that meeting Aug. 3 that she was being fired for “bashing the company.”

Lara said Lou Mangini, who works on constituent concerns in DeLauro’s New Haven office, has been in touch with her.

The letter from Working Families to Rita Krett, who is listed as the owner of the company, said Lara’s firing was “unacceptable and immoral.”

It promised to escalate its support of Lara and other workers if the company doesn’t improve conditions.