The union representing about 2,000 unionized workers at privately run group homes across the state called off a planned strike late Thursday after reaching a tentative agreement with the homes’ operators over wages and benefits.
Details of the $184 million contract, which came just hours before the workers were scheduled to walk off the job at 6 a.m. Friday, were not available. A spokesman for the union representing the workers said the pact will run for two years.
The two sides had been negotiating for weeks and had already agreed once to delay their planned strike.
But the workers were planning to walk out Friday morning had the settlement not come. Group homes had already begun bringing in replacement workers and some had moved residents to vacant nursing home beds. Meanwhile, the union had designated 12 picketing locations across the state.
“We cannot preserve a labor model for group home long-term care services that relies on poverty wages,” Rob Baril, president of SEIU District 1199 New England, which represents the workers, said Thursday, before the agreement was reached. “We need to make the same advances that nursing home workers achieved with recent funding allocations: create a pathway to $20 an hour minimum and retirement, and provide access to affordable health insurance for group home workers and their families.”
Two top aides to Gov. Ned Lamont — budget director Melissa McCaw and Chief of Staff Paul Mounds — helped broker the agreement.
The governor’s office was instrumental in helping to broker a deal between the same union and nursing home operators in May that prevented a strike. Like the nursing home workers, the group home employees are seeking better wages and benefits and more staffing.
A group home pact seemed likely last month as well and the union decided to postpone its strike, which had initially been scheduled for May 21.
“We need to reach parity with nursing home workers to pull poor Black, brown and white working women out of poverty,” Baril said Thursday. “Caregivers risked their lives during COVID-19.”
The union is pushing for a $20 an hour minimum wage; officials have said many caregivers in Connecticut make between $12 — the state minimum wage — and $15 an hour.
Gian Carl Casa, president and CEO of the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance, which represents the group home operators, said the strike points to the need for more state support for human service providers.
“Community nonprofits who contract with the state to provide a wide range of services, including group homes for people with disabilities, have operated without a funding increase for more than a dozen years,’' he said. “Every year we’ve advocated for better funding so that providers can pay the people who staff their agencies a decent wage.”
The labor dispute “underscores the overwhelming need for the historic seven-year investment of $470 million in community nonprofits that is part of the legislature’s proposed budget that we fervently hope will be approved in the coming days,’' Casa said. “Community nonprofits can only pay their staff if they are properly funded. It is truly unfortunate that this chronic underfunding has come to a crisis that could well endanger lives.”
The group home workers represented by the union include support staff, program coordinators, residential day program workers, assistant teachers and licensed practical nurses.
They provide care to people with disabilities at 200 group homes across the state owned by six private, nonprofit providers: Oak Hill, Network, Whole Life, Mosaic, Journey Found and Sunrise.
Daniela Altimari can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.