Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie file photo
Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199 New England (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie file photo)

HARTFORD, CT— A May 1 strike by more than 2,500 workers at 20 nursing homes across the date has been called off as the workers’ union says progress is being made in new contract negotiations.

“We have seen a meaningful commitment to work for appropriate funding. We’re optimistic that with hard work and support from Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration and our friends in the legislature, we can achieve the funding that we need to get good contracts and avert a strike,” Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199 New England, said.

The governor’s February budget proposal did not include additional Medicaid funding for wage increases over the next two years. The legislature’s Appropriations Committee is expected to release its budget early next week.

“The governor supports this decision and remains committed to facilitating the best and fairest outcome while reducing, to the extent possible, any potential disruption for the vulnerable residents and patients who rely on these homes for their care,” Maribel La Luz, Lamont’s communications director, said.

While the members’ strike vote remains in effect, the strike deadline has been removed at all 20 nursing homes affected. A new deadline has not been set.

The National Labor Relations Act requires labor unions to give health care employers a minimum of 10 days’ notice before going on strike.

“The governor has heard the workers’ demands for wage increases. We have withdrawn our immediate strike deadline, and we are hopeful that we won’t have to resend additional deadline notices,” Baril said, adding that workers, the vast majority of which he said make between $13 and $15 an hour, have voted 1,449 to 78 to go out on strike if the union’s demand for 4-percent raises this year and next are not met.

The union estimated that 4-percent raises would cost $40 million annually but quickly added that a large portion of the raises would be covered by Medicaid payments to nursing homes.

The Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities (CAHCF), an association of 160 skilled nursing facilities and assisted living communities, also applauded the workers’ decision to stay on the job.

Matthew V. Barrett, president and CEO of CAHCF said: “Our nursing home operators had been encouraging all parties to stay at the bargaining table and remain fully engaged in the ongoing Connecticut state budget appropriations process where the core issue of badly needed increased Medicaid resources for nursing homes is pending and can be addressed.”

“We continue to see the Connecticut Medicaid funding shortfall as a key impediment to resolving outstanding collective bargaining issues,” Barrett said.

Barrett also said it will also save millions in scarce state Medicaid resources in the short term because state-reimbursable pre-strike replacement staffing costs were set to escalate dramatically this week as the strike commencement deadline of May 1 approached.

Barrett added that the strike reprieve also means that nursing home residents won’t be separated from their caregivers for the time being. He said the consistent assignment of nurse aides to nursing home residents is critically important for their health and well-being. 

Wages for nursing home workers have grown, on average 2 percent, over the past four years.

Caregivers are also facing lower staffing ratios at nursing homes, and residents who require higher levels of care as the state of Connecticut’s population ages.

What emerged following a union press conference about a possible strike two weeks ago was universal agreement that the workers deserved pay raises. However, what clearly is at odds is who is most responsible for coming up with the money — the nursing home owners, the legislature, or the governor.