The union representing low-wage caregivers in Connecticut’s private non-profit group homes for people with intellectual disabilities reached a deal Wednesday with one landlord and issued strike notices for two others.
New England District 1199, an affiliate of SEIU, said the contract with Network Inc., which operates 26 group homes in the state, offers unprecedented increases and pension and health benefits that the union hopes to become a role model for the industry.
The new deal and strike threats come as District 1199 tries to finalize how its members will share the $ 184 million the state set aside in June to reward underpaid group home workers who risked their health during the pandemic.
“Some of our members have waited over 15 years to be compensated with salaries and benefits that truly reward their hard work,” said Rob Baril, union president. “This contract sets the bar high for other operators to come to the table and give workers a fair chance to improve our lives.”
Network and another supplier, Whole Life, faced strikes on October 5. Baril said Whole Life was still facing a walkout on October 5 and the union called a strike at 6 a.m. on October 12 against two others, Alternative Services and Sunrise Northeast.
Overall, the union represents 3,000 workers in group homes owned by 20 nonprofit agencies that rely heavily on state-set Medicaid reimbursements.
“The state, frankly, has done its job. They stepped in and provided the industry with $ 184 million, ”said Baril. “Agencies must submit to the state what their cost needs are. “
For non-union houses, this is entirely under the control of the owners. In union homes, this means negotiating wages and benefits for the labor force, which is almost all women and a large minority.
“You have employees who have 15 years of experience, 20 years of experience, 25 years of experience, who were making $ 16, $ 17, $ 18 an hour,” Baril said.
Whole Life operates 38 homes in Connecticut, while Sunrise has 30 and Alternative Services has 18.
Strike votes are underway in other homes represented by the union.
“A year ago, we started fighting around the concept of a long-term care workers bill of rights that would create a minimum standard of $ 20 an hour over time, access to l health insurance for all and retirement security for all, ”said Baril.
The contract struck Wednesday calls for a starting salary of $ 16.50 this year and $ 17.25 next year, with increases of up to 5% for others based on seniority. It creates a defined benefit pension plan and drastically reduces health insurance costs for employees.
“It’s a great victory. We haven’t seen anything like it in my 35 years of work in this field, ”said Yvonne Dimmett, a Network worker.
Jennifer Brown, who works at Sunrise Northeast and Network, said she was overwhelmed by the prospect of a raise and insurance coverage.
“It’s just overwhelming and grateful. And in the last 15 years, we haven’t had an increase, ”she said.
The contract also grants Juneteenth paid leave “in recognition of racial justice concerns.” Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in America.
CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit agencies, declined to comment on the settlement or the prospect of further strike votes. None of the companies could be reached after the union press conference in the late afternoon.
The strike vote was unanimous at Alternative Services, which employs about 100, and almost at Sunrise Northeast, which employs about 160; Ninety-eight percent voted in favor of the strike, Baril said.
Unaffordable health insurance was a major factor, he said.
“Just for people to understand why the workers in these agencies are fighting, health insurance really should be a human right, in our view,” said Baril. “Unfortunately, in our society, it’s a privilege for people who can afford it.”
Premiums for health coverage at Sunrise are $ 1,108 every two weeks for a single person and $ 2,900 for a family, he said.
“There isn’t a single worker at Sunrise Northeast who takes the health plan,” said Baril.
Baril said Sunrise Northeast president Zachary Wray makes $ 325,000 a year. The company is based in Miami and its finances are public. (To be precise, his salary was $ 300,600, with $ 24,403 in compensation from related entities.)
“So when we talk about the plight of the working poor, you won’t find a better example than the one workers face at Sunrise Northeast,” said Baril. “This is why the workers decided to vote for the strike.