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Group Home Union Workers Reach Last Minute $184M Deal With State To Avoid Friday Strike

group_home_rally-6.jpg
Nicole Leonard
/
Connecticut Public Radio
Union group home workers with District 1199 SEIU rally in Hartford Wed., June 2, 2021, as they demand more state funding in order to avoid a potential strike of 2,100 workers.

Union strikes at more than 200 group home locations across Connecticut have been called off in a late-hour funding deal between workers and state officials.

Representatives at SEIU District 1199 New England said in a statement that union members reached a two-year, $184 million funding agreement with state leaders, effectively ending a scheduled strike by more than 2,100 workers that was to begin 6 a.m. Friday. 

“We believe this additional funding will resolve the open contracts. We have made substantial progress toward our goals for a $20 minimum wage, with major progress on retirement and other benefits,” Rob Baril, union president, said in a statement.

Group home workers have joined employees in home health care, nursing homes, and state programs over the last several months to demand the state invest more money into the long-term care industry.

Specifically, they’ve asked for money to increase wages, improve benefits and retirement options, and fix staffing shortages after years of little change and, more recently, a devastating pandemic.

Thousands of nursing home workers achieved a tentative funding agreement, which also included a $20 minimum wage, with the state last month after threatening to strike.

“This is a great victory for racial and economic justice for the majority of Black and Latina women who make up this workforce of caregivers,” Baril said.

Strike notices have been withdrawn at Journey Found, Oak Hill, Mosaic, Network, Sunrise and Whole Life, all group home agencies that contract with the state to provide services to people with developmental, mental, and physical disabilities.

Although privately operated, the bulk of agencies’ revenue sources comes from state and federal dollars.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, the state and group home workers had not yet come to a deal as Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont’s office continue negotiations over the state’s next biennial budget.

“You can’t put that off budget. You got to make sure we budget for those increases in payments as well for those people,” Lamont said Thursday afternoon. “They deserve it, and I’d like to think we could have that resolved in the very near future.”

Union workers and group home operators were hoping to reach a deal earlier in the week in order to avoid disruption of services to their clients.

Barry Simon, president and CEO of Oak Hill, said the organization was unable to find enough temporary workers for the possible strike. He confirmed that group homes had already begun transferring disabled residents to nursing homes at around 3 p.m. Thursday.

Simon joined union workers at a rally in Hartford Wednesday afternoon in support of their efforts.

“There’s a shortage of workers who want to be doing this, our employees have been on the front lines for the past year, and we just hope that they are valued for the work that they do,” he said.

David Hadden, chair of Oak Hill’s board of directors, also joined the mid-week rally. He said an immediate solution was needed in order to put off the strike, but that a long-term investment plan is overdue.

He is the father of two disabled children, now deceased, who needed everyday care from workers who “improved the quality of life for our kids beyond measure.”

“The larger issue is, our people with disabilities have always lived in the shadows,” Hadden said. “We have been forgotten, we have been overlooked, and the people who care for them have been forgotten and overlooked.”

The state’s biennial budget for fiscal years 2022 and 2023 has not yet been finalized for votes by the General Assembly. The regular legislative session ends June 9.

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.

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