A health care workers union is delaying strike plans at seven nursing homes while it continues to negotiate for more state funding for the long-term care industry and its workforce.
Thousands of members of New England Health Care Employees Union District 1199, SEIU are still threatening to walk off the job Friday if their demands for better wages and benefits are not met -- union leaders say there’s been some progress with state leaders, but not enough to meet their goals.
“We are not there yet, although we remain in dialogue with all parties, and hopefully we can achieve the funding standards that are necessary to move people up,” said Rob Baril, union president. “This workforce is, frankly, too often ignored.”
About 600 nursing home workers at RegalCare’s seven facilities in Glastonbury, Greenwich, New Haven, Southport, Torrington, Waterbury and West Haven were supposed to be among 3,400 union members striking at 33 facilities across the state this week.
But the union announced Wednesday that it has withdrawn original strike notices at those seven facilities and resubmitted them with a new strike date of May 28.
Baril said RegalCare failed to take the initial strike warnings seriously and arrange for adequate replacement staff and services, as required by the Department of Public Health.
“The [union] caregivers understand that those workers should not have to deal with the level of trauma and risk exposure that will take place based on the complete incompetence and irresponsibility of Eli Mirlis in not providing care for those residents,” Baril said.
Mirlis, CEO of RegalCare, said the priority remains the safety and security of residents.
“We continue to do everything to properly care for the residents,” he said, “and we’re glad the strike has been pushed off by two weeks.”
David Dearborn, DPH communications adviser, said RegalCare’s contingency plan submitted to the department in preparation of Friday’s strike had not been approved before Wednesday’s announcement by the union.
Leading up to that point, he said DPH “was continuing to exert pressure on RegalCare regarding its contingency staffing and care planning.”
Mirlis said he hopes RegalCare and its union workers can reach a contract agreement by May 28, but he was confident that the facilities would secure proper replacement staff in the event of a strike later this month.
“The governor has given a substantial amount of money,” he said, “and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be sitting at the negotiating table to get a contract done so there’s no disruption of services and we can provide the care residents deserve.”
Nursing homes are privately operated but are largely funded by Medicaid reimbursements -- a combination of state and federal money.
Gov. Ned Lamont and his administration have offered a $280.3 million nursing home relief package that includes $150 million over the next two fiscal years for wage increases. State officials Tuesday said that would be their “best and final” offer.
But Baril said it falls short of what’s truly needed to stabilize the industry, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, and help lift workers out of poverty. The union is asking for a pathway to a $20 minimum starting wage, more affordable health care insurance options and retirement savings opportunities.
“Those are just basic human needs that all of us, all of us, deserve,” he said.