ctnewsjunkie file photo

HARTFORD, CT — Workers who take care of the disabled through nine nonprofit agencies in Connecticut voted to authorize a strike that will begin 6 a.m., May 7.

That’s two days before the end of the legislative session. The 2,400 workers are hoping it gives legislators enough time to approve a budget that would increase their wages.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said he was recently at a group home in his district and learned they lost two of their “house managers” to a dollar store.

“We’re talking about people who are giving care to our most vulnerable citizens and they’re going to put on a green smock at a dollar store because they’re making more money,” Aresimowicz said. “It just doesn’t seem fair.”

Aresimowicz said the Democratic budget included the increase in wages for these workers who haven’t seen a wage increase in a decade.

Aresimowicz said he knows the Republicans have discussed increasing pay for these workers, but there doesn’t seem to be a consensus. It could end up being part of the bipartisan budget negotiations, which have yet to start. 

“We’ll work it out because we have to. This is the must haves,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said of the funding for the wage increases.

Deputy Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the private nonprofits should receive an increase in funding. Like Aresimowicz, he knows of workers who are paid less than the clients they care for.

“We have to pay attention that we control the purse strings,” Candelora said. “These budgets have consequences and if we don’t start supporting our private providers, we are going to have a problem.”

The workers, who are employed by private nonprofit agencies, agreed to postpone the strike that had been scheduled for April 18 at the request of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. But with no deal in place workers voted Wednesday to resend the strike notices to their employers.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes has presented legislators with a proposal that would raise the wage for workers to $14.75 an hour and provide a 5 percent raise for workers currently earning more than $14.75 an hour effective January 1, 2019. SEIU 1199, the union that represents the workers, would be agreeable to that offer, but it needs to be funded by the legislature.

The cost to increase the wages would require the state to spend $45.6 million. However, since 50 percent of that would be reimbursed by Medicaid the actual impact on the budget would be about $22.8 million.

Unlike the contract for the home healthcare workers, which received bipartisan support, this contract would be a one-time boost in wages.

“We’ve reached a crisis of underfunding in the care our state provides people with disabilities and the workers who care for them,” SEIU 1199 spokesperson Jennifer Schneider, said. “When privatized group homes and programs are shuttering and workers are forced to work 80 hours a week just to make ends meet, something has to change. We thank Secretary Barnes for his work on this issue and encourage all legislators to put party differences aside and provide the vital funding increases needed for workers and clients alike.”

Funding for these private agency providers comes from the state and for over 10 years the funding to this sector has been flat. This has caused low wages, high turnover and lack of affordable health care for workers.

“Legislators need to make caring for the disabled a priority and properly fund these services,” Whole Life worker Kim Ackerman said. “Our clients are like family and we are willing to fight to make sure they get the proper funding they deserve.” Ackerman has worked as a caregiver for the disabled for 24 years and earns $13.25 an hour.

“For years the state has not properly funded services for the disabled,” Oak Hill worker Janet Phillip-Smith said. “Programs have closed, clients can’t get the high level of care they deserve and workers are struggling pay check to pay check. I’m committed to strike for my clients, my co-workers and my family.”

The nonprofit employers and nonprofit organization are supporting their employees in their strike notice.

“The Alliance members have long advocated for better pay for staff, and we support the legislative effort to raise wages,” Gian Carl Casa, president and CEO of the CT Nonprofit Alliance, said. “But we urge lawmakers to also consider funding increases for providers in other human service sectors.”

Casa said Connecticut’s community-based providers serve 500,000 people every year and have continued to see their budgets reduced.

“We appreciate the legislature’s desire to boost wages where those increases are most needed, and we urge them to help all of our human service providers across the state meet wage and other needs caused by years of reductions,” Casa said.