Even as news stories proliferated over the weekend on the crisis in the caregiver workforce serving people with disabilities, in Connecticut, 2,400 employees of nine nonprofit agencies voted to authorize a strike that will begin in the early morning of May 7th. Supporting the strike are not just the agencies employing the workers but also the state’s nonprofit alliance (join yours today). The workers are also represented by SEIU 1199.
The intent is to get the legislature to increase their reimbursement rates, which have not been increased for more than a decade. They had originally been scheduled to strike on April 18th, but delayed the action at the request of Governor Dannel Malloy. However, the legislative session is drawing to a close and no deal has yet been reached.
The legislature has clearly done some listening, as House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) said the Democratic budget included the increase in wages, but the final decision may end up in upcoming bipartisan budget negotiations.
“We’ll work it out because we have to. This is [in] the must-haves,” says House Majority Leader Matt Ritter (D-Hartford).
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Deputy Minority Leader Vincent Candelora (R-North Branford) also supports an increase. “We have to pay attention that we control the purse strings,” Candelora said. “These budgets have consequences and if we don’t start supporting our private providers, we are going to have a problem.”
The proposal from Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes would raise the wage for workers to $14.75 an hour and provide a five-percent raise for workers currently earning more than $14.75 an hour effective January 1, 2019. That’s something that SEIU would accept, so long as the legislature funds it. The wage increase would cost the state $45.6 million, but half of that would be reimbursed by Medicaid.
“We’ve reached a crisis of underfunding in the care our state provides people with disabilities and the workers who care for them,” SEIU 1199 spokesperson Jennifer Schneider said. “When privatized group homes and programs are shuttering and workers are forced to work 80 hours a week just to make ends meet, something has to change. We thank Secretary Barnes for his work on this issue and encourage all legislators to put party differences aside and provide the vital funding increases needed for workers and clients alike.”
“For years the state has not properly funded services for the disabled,” Oak Hill worker Janet Phillip-Smith said. “Programs have closed, clients can’t get the high level of care they deserve, and workers are struggling paycheck to paycheck. I’m committed to strike for my clients, my co-workers and my family.”
Earlier in April, the Connecticut General Assembly approved a raise for home healthcare aides, who were also represented by SEIU. However, unlike that contract, this would be a “one-time boost in wages.”—Ruth McCambridge