jack kramer / ctnewsjunkie file
Careene Reid, a certified nursing associate at the Trinity Center Hill nursing home, speaks to reporters in April when her union had set an original strike deadline of May 1 (jack kramer / ctnewsjunkie file)

HARTFORD, CT — The on again-off again strike by more than 2,500 workers at 20 nursing homes across the state is back on again as union members Wednesday night authorized a new walk out date of June 3.

Nursing home caregivers represented by the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199 SEIU, are demanding additional funding in the state budget to cover wage raises industry-wide for the next two years.

Working under expired contracts over the past two years, caregivers did not get raises in 2016 and 2017 before getting a 2% increase in 2018 amounting to roughly 30 cents for most workers. But if the current state budget proposal is approved, they won’t receive raises in 2019 and 2020.

A previously set May 1 strike by more than 2,500 workers at 20 nursing homes across the state was called off as the workers’ union said progress was being made in new contract negotiations.

But the strike is back on.

“More than 2,500 nursing home caregivers will be forced to walk out of their jobs until proper funding is provided to raise their take-home pay,” Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199 New England said. “This is a last resort for workers who care dearly about the residents and patients they serve every day.

“Some of our members are making as little as $10.93 per hour, or just 83 cents above the bare-minimum wage. This is totally unacceptable in a wealthy state like Connecticut,” Baril added.

Baril said five more nursing homes with 600-plus workers may be joining the strike once their voting process has concluded.

Further complicating matters is a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 over the next few years — an amount that exceeds what many nursing home workers currently earn. The bill was being debated by legislators today and does not appear to contain any exemption for nursing homes.

The CT Association of Health Care Facilities/CT Center for Assisted Living (CAHCF/CCAL) said as many as 150 nursing home staff will be at the state Capitol today to meet with their local legislators to urge them to support a 4% Medicaid rate increase for Connecticut’s skilled nursing facilities.

What emerged following a recent union press conference about a possible strike several 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.

The governor’s February budget proposal did not include additional Medicaid funding for wage increases over the next two years.

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

“We pray for immediate action from our elected officials to fund wage increases for nursing home workers. We had no raise in 2016. No raise in 2017,” said Careene Reid, a certified nursing assistant at Trinity Hill Care Center. “A 27-cent raise for me in 2018. And no raise coming our way in 2019 and 2020. “We demand the required funding from our state leaders. Our caregivers, as well as our patients and residents, and their families deserve better. But now we know we’ll have to fight in union to get the modest raises that we ask for.”

Upon receiving an encouraging letter two weeks ago from Lamont asking for room to negotiate, workers withdrew the previous notice of intent to strike sent to Connecticut nursing homes, which was effective on May 1. The National Labor Relations Act requires labor unions to give health care employers a minimum notice of 10 days before going on strike.

Wages for nursing home workers have grown, on average 2%, 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.

The Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities has said that increased Medicaid resources for nursing homes is badly needed to help fund raises for the workers.