HARTFORD, CT — “No more excuses,” hundreds of healthcare workers shouted on the north steps of the state Capitol. “Fund our services.”
The 2,500 workers, who are unionized through SEIU 1199, work in private nonprofit group homes and facilities that are funded through the state Department of Developmental Services. They take care of Connecticut’s intellectually and developmentally disabled population and aren’t making more than $14 an hour.
On Monday, they announced they voted to go on strike.
The nine private nonprofit group homes where the workers’ work serve hundreds of communities across the state.
Sen. Terry Gerratana, D-New Britain, said the workers haven’t had a raise in over a decade and some who have worked in the field for two decades are making less now than they did when they started. She said that’s wrong and one of the reasons she’s supporting SB 400 which would direct funding to improve pay to these direct care workers.
It will cost Connecticut about $30 million and Democratic leadership seems to be supportive of the proposal. Senate President Martin Looney and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz both addressed workers Monday.
Many workers, like Rhonda Defelice, work two jobs because they can’t survive on just one.
“I work during the day and then at night until 10 a.m. in the morning,” Defelice said. “I work seven days a week. This is no way for anyone to live.”
She said she has a child who barely gets to see her because this is what she has to do to survive and provide.
“I have to make a choice. Do we eat this week or do I pay the bills?” Defelice said. “We can not wait for them to say they don’t have the money.”
She said while the news says the money is tight, “we need to think about what we’re doing to the people with disabilities and the workers like me that take care of them.”
Janet Cruz, another worker, has been doing this work for 13 years.
“Our clients depend on us for everything and they’re like family,” Cruz said.
She said because her wages are so low she works 80 hours per week just to try and at the end of the week she’s still forced to make tough choices about which bills to pay.
“This should not be the case,” Cruz said. “We have voted to strike unless legislators can step up and provide the funding we need.”
The workers have given notice of a strike, but can’t walk off the job until April 1.
“What we need to do is not just advocate—but sadly many times people don’t pay attention until you’re prepared to create a crisis—and we are prepared to create a crisis,” SEIU 1199 President David Pickus said.
He said they’re no longer going to accept that “it’s just not your turn.”
Barry Simon, president and CEO of Oak Hill, who will lose his workforce on April 1 if legislative action isn’t taken, said he supports the workers efforts.
Oak Hill is the largest private sector agency providing these services to the community.
He said the state has provided flat funding to the private sector for a decade and they would like to increase their workers’ pay.
“We stand side-by-side with you,” Simon said.
He said they do a lot of fundraising to try and subsidize what the state pays, but it’s not enough to give his workers a raise.
“If the state wants a service they need to be able to pay a reasonable rate for it,” Simon said.
He said they haven’t received any rate adjustments, except down, since 2008.
Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said they have always been supportive of these workers and the jobs they do.
That’s why “Republicans have worked to try to find ways to prioritize funding for these services,” Fasano said Monday. However, “we have always made it clear that increasing fixed costs by extending the SEBAC deal would crowd out the possibility of increasing funding for private providers.”