HARTFORD, CT — The Senate voted 29-4 with three Republican Senators absent to help avoid a strike and give many more workers who care for the intellectually and developmentally disabled a raise to $14.75 an hour.
Only about 2,400 of the 19,000 workers are unionized, but until Saturday’s vote those 2,400 workers represented by SEIU 1199 were ready to walk off the job because they haven’t had a raise in more than a decade.
Andrea Barton Reeves, president and CEO of HARC, who employs hundreds of these workers said she’s thrilled they will be receiving a raise.
“Finally, I think the state has recognized the value of the work our people do,” Reeves said. “It’s really life saving.”
She said they will now be able to feed their own families as they care for other families.
Barry Simon, president and CEO of Oak Hill, one of the nonprofits which would have been impacted by the strike, said he’s grateful that his 800 workers will be at work on Monday.
“I am beyond pleased that not only did the legislature recognize the value of our services, but that collectively we are able to not have a staffing issue,” Simon said.
SEIU 1199 President David Pickus said they would call off Monday’s strike as a result of passage of the bill.
“Passage of this bill brings much needed relief to union and non-union workers across the state who had been forced to work 80-90 hours a week due to low wages,” Jennifer Schneider, SEIU 1199 spokesman, said. “It is our hope that moving forward these services are valued, properly funded and never again neglected.”
Republican Sens. Craig Miner, Eric Berthel, Anthony Guglielmo, and Scott Frantz voted against it.
The workers are not state workers, but they serve clients who are the responsibility of the state. The state contracts for the services to be provided by nonprofit organizations. Those organizations will be required to pass the wage increases down to their workers.
A Republican amendment that sought to raise all private, nonprofit employees making less than $14.75 up to that level and give everyone a 1 percent cost of living increase for five years failed 18-14.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, warned that “If this amendment passes, we have a strike. If we vote it down, we do not have a strike. We have a decision in front of us, today, right now, if we want to spend $1 million a day. We have the power, right now, to not spend $1 million a day on something we can avoid ourselves.’’
A strike was expected to cost the state $1 million per day, which in a month would exceed what the state wanted to spend to increase the wages of these workers.
The legislation that passed 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 $21.5 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.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to sign the legislation.
“The action taken by the Senate today will ensure they are compensated fairly while helping to avert a strike that would disrupt the lives of the individuals with intellectual disabilities and cost Connecticut taxpayers an estimated $1 million per day,” Malloy said after the vote. “We are grateful to these hardworking women and men for their work and their patience with the legislative process, and to the legislators who had the courage to support them today.”
The workers and their clients packed the Senate gallery to watch Saturday’s debate.