Local Healthcare Workers Demand New Contract Negotiation

UFCW 27 is asking management at the Wilmington facility to come to the bargaining table

 · April 19, 2023
photo credit: R.E. Vanella

For more than a week, workers at Kentmere Rehabilitation & Skilled Nursing center, along with representatives from United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 27 (UFCW 27), have been walking a picket line outside the Lovering Avenue care home to raise awareness about their contract situation.

This ongoing demonstration is an informational picket, not a strike, and is an effort to get Kentmere management to the bargaining table. The workers are currently operating under a tentative extension of the previous contract. The current extension doesn’t expire unless either party cancels with appropriate notice.

UFCW Local 27 represents 60 workers at the facility in Wilmington’s Forty Acres neighborhood, including certified nursing assistants, dietary specialists, activity aides, maintenance workers and housekeepers, Nelson Hill, the vice president of Local 27 and assistant to the president, confirmed.

Local 27 represents more than 22,000 workers across Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The union has represented Kentmere workers for more than 40 years. 

“We’re just trying to get them to the table,” explained Donna Smits, a longtime Kentmere employee and current union representative. Smits lamented that in her 20 plus years at Kentmere the union had never before had a serious dispute with management that would call for this type of public action.

Among the demands, workers are looking to guarantee fair wages and affordable healthcare and to ensure full compliance with all wage and work-time laws. A common refrain on the picket line has been that the Covid 19 pandemic reinforced the significant role of frontline care workers and the need to use a collective voice to ensure proper pay and safe working conditions.  

Kentmere Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing center opened in 1901 and is run as a nonprofit organization. It provides rehabilitation services and senior nursing care, as well as Alzheimer’s and dementia treatment for residents.

Messages to Kentmere Executive Director Susan Eccles for comment on this matter have not been returned.

The workers have scheduled a public rally for noon on Sunday, April 23rd on Kentmere Parkway at the intersection of Lovering Ave. and Union St. In addition to UFCW 27 workers, representatives from the AFL-CIO have been scheduled to speak. Union officials and workers have also invited local politicians, families of Kentmere residents and patients, as well as supporters from the surrounding neighborhood to attend to show solidarity and learn more about the situation.

The workers have been on the picket line every day since Tuesday April 11th (with the exception of Saturday April 15th when it was canceled due to inclement weather forecasts). When asked how long they planned to continue, one worker said, “we’ll be out from 10 to six until we don’t need to be out here.”

Hill did confirm that Kentmere management has contacted UFCW 27 to schedule negotiation dates, but nothing is currently on the calendar.

About the Author

R.E. Vanella is the Coordinating Editor of the Delaware Call and the host of the Highlands Bunker podcast. He lives in the Forty Acres neighborhood in Wilmington with his wife. He is currently working on a book about the intersection of politics and cricket tentatively titled Thoughts from Silly Point. Read more from R.E. Vanella.