Hugh McQuaid file photo

Connecticut’s largest healthcare union sent strike notices to 27 nursing home facilities in 20 different cities and towns Wednesday.

The notices went to the Paradigm, Genesis, and iCare nursing home chains, informing those companies that 3,500 workers will begin striking April 24. New England Health Care Workers’ Union SEIU 1199 represents 25,000 workers, and about 7,500 of those members work in nursing homes.

Of those 7,500 nursing home workers, some 3,500 at 27 homes will be striking to obtain higher wages, according to a press release from SEIU 1199 NE.

They said the average age of a nursing home worker is 44 years old and many make less than $15 an hour, while caring for some of the states most fragile residents.

“It’s time for all of us to stand together and demand higher wages to support our families and our communities,” Nicole Jeffries, a Certified Nursing Assistant from Hartford, said. “My passion is caring for others but at the end of a long day caring for others, I come home and don’t know if my lights are going to be turned off because I can’t pay my bill.”

A nursing home association is encouraging the union to stay at the bargaining table.

The Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities is encouraging all parties to be mindful of the current state budget outlook, where mounting budget deficits are a real threat to nursing home providers and their ability to address employee collective bargaining proposals.

Matthew V. Barrett, executive vice presidents of the CAHCF, stressed that there is an obvious relationship between the Medicaid rates and the ability of nursing home operators to address the pressure of increasing wages and benefits for employees.

Barrett said that it would be an insurmountable challenge for nursing homes to address labor issues unless new Medicaid resources became available for all facilities. 

Staffing accounts for 70 percent of nursing home costs. Barrett said increasing employee wages and benefits can only be reasonably expected when overdue Medicaid dollars are provided to the operators. He said Medicaid payments are now $28 below the cost of provider care to Medicaid recipients per day.

Barrett also expressed a concern that nursing home residents might be in harm’s way if there was a large scale job action where thousands of nursing home workers went on strike. He said it was a major undertaking for nursing homes to assure caregiving for their frail and elderly residents by contracting for replacement staffing.

“The math just doesn’t work,” Barrett said. “While Connecticut nursing homes want to meet the public’s reasonable expectation for high quality care, the current state policy of paying Medicaid reimbursement below costs makes this an ongoing challenge for Connecticut operators. The same issue is present in the area of wages and benefit increases for employees —the situation is much worse when Medicaid rates to nursing homes might be cut.”

A spokesman for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy encouraged the two sides to continue negotiations.

“We would encourage both sides to continue to stay at the table, while the legislature and our office continue to finalize the budget,” Devon Puglia said in an email.