Low wage workers and labor advocates gathered at the Legislative Office Building Tuesday to tell their stories and celebrate their progress, including successful negotiations with two nursing home chains.
A certified nursing assistant announced that workers represented by the Service Employees International Union were recently able to negotiate a raise to $15 an hour.
Nicole Jefferson, a CNA, told the crowd packed into a hearing room that for three years she’s been making $12 an hour taking care of everyone else’s family, but is still unable to take care of her own. Jefferson has a 9-year-old daughter and she worries about maintaining a “healthy lifestyle” for her daughter, while working sometimes as much as 80 hours a week.
The crowd erupted in cheers when Jefferson announced that her union secured a raise to $15 an hour for CNA’s.
“This is a huge victory for all workers who believe that if you work hard you deserve a fair wage,” SEIU 1199 spokesperson Jennifer Schneider said. “We hope the momentum of this victory continues to other industries still struggling with low wages like child care, home care and fast food.”
The negotiations cover 2,600 nursing home workers at 20 nursing home facilities across the state owned by iCare and Genesis. The tentative agreement means that strikes at 20 nursing home facilities are now no longer on the horizon.
In April thousands of nursing home workers from 27 nursing homes across the state voted to strike for a $15 minimum wage, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy urged them to wait to see what happened with the state budget.
Even though negotiations were successful, it remains to be seen if workers will actually get the raise.
The Malloy administration is still parsing budget language, which allocated $9 million to 60 union nursing homes and $4 million to 170 non-union nursing homes. Matthew Barrett, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities, has said the budget language is illegal and that state can’t give preferential treatment to union nursing homes.
The fight for $15 an hour includes more than just healthcare workers. It includes fast food workers and other low wage workers.
Human Services Committee Co-Chair Marilyn Moore, D-Trumbull, said she spent a month of her summer working at Target. Not because she needed the job, but because she wanted to experience what it was like to work for $9.75 an hour.
She said the man who trained her was a given the title of “team leader” but that the title didn’t come with an increase in pay. She said he had worked there for two years making $9.90 an hour with a promise that he may move up the corporate ladder.
But Moore didn’t believe it was a promise that would ever materialize.
“Look at the millions and billions of dollars they’re making and how the state is paying for all the services so that they can make billions,” Moore said. “There’s something very wrong with that picture.”
The approximately 150 people gathered Tuesday had hoped to attend the first meeting of the Low Wage Employer Advisory Board, but Malloy hasn’t finished making his five appointments to the 13-member board.
“We are in the process of making the appointments,” Devon Puglia, a spokesman for Malloy, said Tuesday.
The board, which was created as part of the budget implementer, was supposed to be in place by the end of August. It was created to study the causes and effects of businesses paying low wages to residents, the use of public assistance among low wage employees, minimum wage rates, and working conditions.
It was supposed to report its recommendations to legislative committees by Dec. 1, 2015. But without a full complement of board members it’s unlikely it will meet that deadline.
Legislation to impose a fee on large corporations that don’t pay their employees at least $15 an hour failed in committee during this year’s session. The bill sought to charge big corporations like Wal-Mart $1 per hour for each employee paid $15 per hour or less to offset the costs of social services for those workers.
The legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated the bill would cover about 146,710 of the 743,328 employees who work for companies with at least 500 employees in Connecticut, with a potential revenue gain to the state of up to $152.6 million in 2016 and $305.1 million in future years.
Similar legislation will likely be raised again in the 2016 session.
The message Tuesday from Kevin Burgos, who is on the national organization committee for the Fight for $15 movement, was politicians who don’t support the movement will lose at the polls.
“If you’re not on board with the Fight for $15 movement, then we’re not going to elect you,” Burgos said. “You can not be our voice because we will speak over you.”