Strike averted at one Connecticut nursing home provider; more strikes threats loom as workers seek better pay, benefits

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More than 300 unionized employees of Connecticut group homes on Wednesday called off a threatened Oct. 5 strike against Network, one of several group home providers, as an agreement was reached to raise wages, decrease health-insurance costs and increase companies’ contribution to their pensions.

However, in a Zoom news conference, Rob Baril, president of New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU, announced strike notifications against two other group home providers. Strikes on Oct. 12 were announced against Alternative Services, which employs about 100 unionized workers; and Sunrise Northeast, which employs about 160.

Also, an Oct. 5 strike deadline remains in place against provider Whole Life. That strike deadline was announced by SEIU 1199 last week. Whole Life employs more than 300 unionized caregivers.

In June, state Budget director Melissa McCaw and Chief of Staff Paul Mounds brokered an agreement to authorize $184 million in funding to raise pay and improve benefits at group homes statewide. The funding promise narrowly averted a strike against the state by more than 4,000 workers.

After the state funding was approved, the union began negotiations with the group home providers. Network is the first provider in the state to settle with the union.

The two-year Network contract, retroactive to July 2021 and expiring in March 2023, affects more than 300 caregivers. They will see a minimum-wage increase from $14.75 to $17.25 by July 2022, a boost of 17%. More experienced workers will get up to 5% wage increases for 2021 and 2022.

Under the contract, caregivers’ health insurance costs will decrease by up to 90% and Network’s pension contributions will increase to 9.5%.

Baril emphasized that the caregiving industry is dominated by women and people of color, “working class white women, black women, brown women, not people in society who have a tremendous amount of power unless we have a fighting organization.”

The negotiations also include tracking and reviewing disciplinary action to address potential racial discrimination.

At the news conference, several Network employees told stories about how they work multiple jobs to make ends meet and pay for insurance, since premiums cost more than their take-home pay.

“We work so hard. We give medication. We cook. We do everything because they are like our family. We really love what we are doing. We give 100% and we don’t get anything back,” said Evelyn Addy, a native of Ghana who works at Network.

Sherry Nash, who has worked at Network for 13 years and makes less than $20 an hour, said sometimes she goes to a pharmacy to get her son’s medication but has to leave without it because she can’t afford it. With the union contract, she said “I can possibly live comfortably for a while.”

As part of the contract, additional compensation will be provided for mandated shifts, holiday pay and for part-timers. Nash said one overtime shift made her miss her son’s birthday party. “I was mandated to come in. It’s not always elective overtime. It’s because they say you have to,” she said.

The additional state funding approved in June was achieved as part of the union’s “Long-Term Care Workers Bill of Rights.”

Susan Dunne can be reached at sdunne@courant.com.

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