Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Dentra Pearson (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — Signaling what’s likely to be approval of a new contract, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Senate President Martin Looney, and Senate Republican President Len Fasano joined together Tuesday in their support of a wage increase for 8,500 homecare workers.

The Senate and the House are both expected to approve a contract Wednesday that would raise wages and improve working conditions for these workers.

The new three-year contract would:

• increase wages to $16.25 an hour by 2020;
• allow workers to work beyond the 25.75 hours-per-week cap, and;
• include workers’ compensation coverage if they hurt themselves on the job.

Malloy said the contract is really about “preparing our state for an aging population.”

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

He said wages just a few years ago were so low people were leaving the field and not coming into it.

“We know there’s been a 20 percent rise in the folks getting homecare since the year 2000,” Malloy said. “It’s actually reflective of a movement to keep people in their homes with the best possible care.”

It also happens to be less expensive to have the aging population stay in their homes.

“It’s important for Connecticut that the entire General Assembly move this forward and that it’s not seen as a partisan issue,” Looney said.

So far it hasn’t been seen that way.

“It is going to pass that chamber by a lot of votes,” Fasano said. “It is a bipartisan measure.”

Fasano said these workers do important work and deserve an increase in pay and workers’ compensation coverage.

Malloy acknowledged that the legislation allowing these workers to organize a union was unpopular, “but this is important work.”

Their path to forming a union was complicated. It started with an executive order from Malloy and then was reinforced by legislative action to recognize their ability to collectively bargain with the state.

Several lawsuits seeking to invalidate their collective bargaining rights were unsuccessful and allowed these workers to continue their negotiations with the state. Medicaid is partially funded by the state, but these home care workers are not state employees. They are instead employed by private citizens through Medicaid waivers using state and federal funds. They receive paychecks through a third-party payroll company.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Senate Republican President Len Fasano (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

The newly negotiated contract, which totals about $7 million, also includes overtime for key holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving and pay for orientation and training.

It will be the first labor contract state lawmakers have been asked to vote on since the changes to the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition agreement in 2017.

Those changes were approved largely along party lines. But tomorrow’s vote is expected to be bipartisan.

Denitra Pearson, a homecare worker from New Haven, said she makes $13.48 an hour and it’s a daily struggle to take care of her family.

“I have decide whether I’m going to pay my rent or car insurance sometimes,” Pearson said. “I need both of those to live and get to work.”

She said the contract will allow her to stop making tough choices “like paying rent or buying groceries.”

A majority of homecare workers, or 90 percent are female, and about half are minorities.

Rev. A.J. Johnson of Urban Hope Refuge Church said these workers often perform some of the most thankless tasks in the allied health field.

He said over one-quarter of these workers live under the federal poverty line and more than half rely on public assistance.

“Women of color are the largest demographic in the homecare workforce,” Johnson said.

He said these workers spend their day caring for others but “at the end of the day can’t even care for themselves.”