There was excitement inside and outside D.C. City Hall on Monday as nursing home contractor Solanges Vivens was brought before a special hearing to testify about serious problems with finances and care at facilities she’s run for the District.
While council members grilled Vivens up on the fourth floor, workers at the Vivens-run J.B. Johnson nursing home rallied on the building’s steps with a broad coalition of labor and community supporters. The J.B. Johnson workers voted 165-0 to unite in 1199SEIU in February 2010, but have been denied a fair contract by Vivens ever since.
“This isn’t just a fight for a contract at one nursing home,” said Jos Williams, President of the Metro Washington Labor Council “This is a fight for working people everywhere, and when we work together no one can stop us.” Williams was flanked as he spoke by representatives from the Teamsters, SEIU 32BJ, IBEW, AFSCME, AFT, the Ironworkers, UNITE HERE, and OUR DC, the community-labor grassroots group.
The special hearing was called by the District Committee on Aging and Community Affairs soon after the D.C. Inspector General released an explosive report about VMT in September. The report found that Solanges Vivens’ company, VMT, was responsible for losing the District $2.7 million and urged the city to recoup the funds.
The report also found that VMT wrongly spent $181,000 of D.C. funds on attorneys to combat the organizing efforts of workers at J.B. Johnson and another D.C.-owned nursing home.
“We just want a fair contract,” said Melvina Jacobs, a CNA at J.B. Johnson. “All we want is the ability to provide for ourselves and our families so that we can focus on what’s most important to us: taking care of our residents.”
“Too many of us have worked at J.B. Johnson for years without receiving a raise and too many of us have substandard health benefits for ourselves and our families,” said LaQuita Coates, a CNA at J.B. Johnson. “But while we struggle, Solanges Vivens is misusing millions of dollars in D.C. taxpayer money and she paid herself almost $2 million in one year alone. That’s not right, and we won’t take it anymore.”
It was in 2008 that VMT paid CEO Solanges Vivens $1.8 million. That year, VMT’s total revenues were just $8.1 million. And from 2004 to 2008, the small company paid Vivens, who is VMT’s sole shareholder, a total of $3.5 million.
And while Vivens has enriched herself at the expense of D.C. taxpayers, she has also offended D.C.’s African-American community. Early this year, as J.B. Johnson workers ramped up their campaign for improvements at the home, Vivens suddenly changed the name of the facility to “Unique Residential Care Center.” The name change was deeply disrespectful to the memory of Dr. J.B. Johnson, a pioneering black cardiologist and a public health champion.
Mrs. Audrey Johnson, the widow of Dr. Johnson, testified at Monday’s hearing and expressed deep disappointment with Vivens’ betrayal of her husband’s legacy. Mrs. Johnson and 1199 are now working together to restore the name of Dr. Johnson and ensure that his legacy of public service is honored.