A labor union representing Connecticut health care workers notified six group home agencies Friday evening that more than 2,000 employees are prepared to walk off the job later this month.
Union workers are demanding wage increases, better benefits and solutions to staffing shortages in contract negotiations with agency owners and operators.
“If you can see me get up every day and go to work, and you don’t offer any insurance that’s affordable, you don’t offer us a pension -- to give 25 years and not have a pension is a slap in the face,” Jennifer Brown said. “I‘m tired and I’m fed up, and enough is enough.”
Brown, a direct support peer professional, voted with other members of New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, SEIU, to strike May 21 at six group home agencies that largely provide services for people with intellectual, developmental, physical and mental disabilities at over 200 sites across the state.
The announcement comes exactly a week before 3,400 nursing home workers are scheduled to strike at 33 facilities on May 14.
Union leaders say state officials have praised workers for their actions on the front lines of the pandemic but have yet to back that up with adequate funding needed to support the workforce.
“Over the past year, workers have been showing up every day, they’re putting their lives at risk, they’re putting their families’ lives at risk,” said Stephanie Deceus, 1199 vice president of group homes. “And right now, we want the governor to show up for those workers.”
Strike notices were served late Friday to group home agencies Oak Hill, Network, Whole Life, Mosaic, Journey Found, and Sunrise.
Deceus said all union contracts expired earlier this year or last year.
On average, about 98% of union members at the different agencies voted in support of a strike, which could still be called off between now and May 21 if there’s significant progress in discussions over state funding and contracts.
Workers are asking for a pathway to a $20 hourly minimum wage, among other things.
The union represents group home workers in direct support staff, assistant program coordination, residential day programs, assistant teaching and licensed practical nursing.
Brown, who is 55 years old, works three jobs at different agencies. One full-time position gets her access to cheaper health insurance -- she couldn’t afford the coverage plan that costs $6,000 a month at a different agency.
In all, it amounts to seven days of work totaling 60 to 80 hours a week. Her daughter also works in group home care.
“I love the care that I give, I love making people smile,” she said, “but to know that we can go to work every day and I have nothing to fall back on. And now that my daughter is following right behind me, I don’t want her to have to go through that.”
Deceus said people shouldn’t have to work multiple jobs, including full-time positions, in order to make ends meet, or work into their senior years because they can’t afford to retire from jobs that can be physically demanding.
Deceus said there have been some negotiations with the group home agencies, “and it’s gone as far as it could go as far as the amount of money they’re able to pay workers, because they’re getting the [payment] rates from the state agencies.”
Workers hope the strike notices put more pressure on legislators and Gov. Ned Lamont to increase state funding for long-term care so that their demands are met.