Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz watches the debate (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — An estimated 19,000 workers who care for the developmentally disabled are one step closer to receiving their first raise in a decade.

The House passed legislation Wednesday that would increase wages for these workers to $14.75 an hour.

It also will help 2,400 of the 19,000 workers avoid a threatened May 7 strike.

The legislation will provide for a $14.75 minimum wage for all workers and a one-time, 5-percent raise for workers who make more than $14.75 an hour.

The raises are expected to cost the state about $22.8 million a year after the 50-percent Medicaid reimbursement is applied. With a start date of Jan. 1, 2019, the amount required in fiscal year 2019 would be $11.4 million.

The legislation passed the House 88-62 with nine Republicans joining all the Democrats in voting in favor.

It now goes to the Senate.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Rep. Michael D’Agostino (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

The state is able to mandate the wages for all these workers, Rep. Mike D’Agostino, D-Hamden, explained, because the Medicaid reimbursement applies to both private and public entities and follows the clients.

“Passing this bill is the right thing to do,” D’Agostino said.

During an earlier press conference, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said that the workers are “very talented — we want to keep them,” but even places like dollar stores are paying better wages.

Republicans, who largely opposed the wage increase, said they supported the workers but were troubled that there was no overall budget plan in place to cover the increased costs.

“The taxpayers of Connecticut cannot afford this bill,” Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said. “It is the nice thing to do, but it’s not the right thing to do.”

House passage of the legislation comes as replacement workers have begun arriving at worksites to prepare for the May 7 strike.

The state is on the hook for $600,000 to train replacement workers. SEIU 1199 union officials said a strike will cost the state $1 million a day.

When taking into account the cost of funding replacement workers combined with the fact that the workers haven’t had a raise in over a decade, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, asked: “How can you vote against this?”

Asked about Ritter’s comments Wednesday, Senate Republican President Len Fasano, R-North Haven, questioned Ritter’s calculations on the cost of the strike.

“Just because he says that doesn’t mean it’s true,” Fasano said.

Fasano said Republicans are bothered that they’ve been asking for copies of the contracts to review for weeks and they received all of them Wednesday morning.

“That seems a little unfair,” Fasano said.

Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of the Connecticut Nonprofit Alliance, said a strike would keep caregivers from their clients and won’t be good for anyone.

“We support legislation that would have the state fund pay increases to prevent it, and we are pleased that the House has passed it,” Casa said.

Nine of the more than 100 private providers of these services will be impacted by a strike if the legislation doesn’t make it to the governor’s desk.

The latest payroll data submitted by union agencies revealed that 44 percent of these workers currently earn less than $14.75 per hour. For those below that rate, the average hourly wage is $12.97 per hour. An SEIU 1199 survey revealed that 35 percent of workers rely on some form of public assistance.

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 to walk out on May 7.