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Dozens arrested during CT Capitol demonstration by striking group home workers

Iva L Johnson , SEIU 1199
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Iva L. Johnson is arrested and led away from other SEIU 1199 members who occupied Capitol Avenue in Hartford on June 1, 2023 during a strike to demand better wages. Johnson said, ”Lives are in jeopardy. The leaders of the state are responsible for putting together a moral budget. Governor Lamont, do you want this to be your legacy?"

Hartford police arrested dozens of protesters who sat down in the middle of Capitol Avenue on Thursday afternoon in support of an ongoing strike by caregivers for the developmentally disabled.

Organizers with SEIU 1199 New England coordinated with the Hartford Police Department in planning the act of civil disobedience. The 58 union members who chose to be arrested were given yellow armbands to wear to identify themselves.

“We are trying everything in our power to get our governor, to get our legislators to hear the plea of long-term care workers,” 1199 President Rob Baril said moments before his own arrest.

The arrests come as more than 1,700 workers enter the second week of their strike for more funding in the state budget, which is still being negotiated. The union says many of its members work upwards of 80 hours a week, performing grueling caregiving labor for an average wage of between $17 and $18 per hour.

Striking members of SEIU 1199 occupy Capitol Ave in Hartford, while demanding a "moral budget" from the state, including wage increases for long-term care workers and those who work with the developmentally disabled.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Striking members of SEIU 1199 occupy Capitol Ave in Hartford, while demanding a "moral budget" from the state, including wage increases for long-term care workers and those who work with the developmentally disabled. The workers are in their second week of the strike and say the current base wage of $17 an hour has led to high turnover, chronic understaffing, and poverty conditions for many full-time employees.

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry traveled from the union’s headquarters in Washington to support the strike and the arrests.

“When injustice happens, as is happening in this debate with the state budget, we need to disobey laws in order to make the case to the public that they need to join us in support,” Henry said.

“I always feel confident workers are going to win,” Henry said. “When people stand together and have the courage and fearlessness to strike and take arrests, I always experience amazing breakthroughs. We make the impossible possible.”

Sylvia Grant, a striking caregiver who typically works at a group home in Hartford, said she looked forward to being arrested.

“It’s worth it,” Grant said. “A lot of people I know are on the picket line and that’s fine, but this is another instance of what Dr. Martin Luther King did.”

Homecare worker Sylvia Grant (right) and SEIU 1199 CT Vice President Rebecca Simonsen (left) are among the last led away.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Home care worker Sylvia Grant (right) and SEIU 1199 CT Vice President Rebecca Simonsen (left) are among the last led away. The act of civil disobedience was coordinated with police, and participants who wore yellow armbands were arrested.

The strike “has been difficult,” Grant said. “But do I feel that we are going to win? Most definitely.”

The union has called for $200 million in the state’s biennial budget to provide for a “pathway to $25 an hour” for its members, as well as support more robust health care coverage and retirement benefits. House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said last week the union would not get their full request. On Thursday morning, Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters a budget deal was in place and that the workers would get roughly $50 million of their $200 million ask.

“We’re trying to do right by them,” Lamont said. “But I’m the guy at the end of the day who has to put together a balanced budget that adds up.”

The governor and legislative leaders said Thursday they expect a budget vote next week, ahead of the General Assembly’s June 7 adjournment.

Baril, the union president, said Thursday his members are prepared to strike indefinitely if their demands aren’t met in the finalized budget.

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.

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