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

HARTFORD, CT — For the second time in a matter of weeks a threatened strike by thousands of workers at Connecticut nursing homes has been called off. This time, because a new contract has been reached for many of those workers.

Over 1,000 caregivers reached an agreement for a new contract with iCare facilities on Friday to avert a strike in Connecticut nursing homes.

The new contract covers a period of March 2017 through March 2021, with a commitment for significant wage increases each year retroactive to November 2018 through January 2021, plus other benefit considerations.

Specifics of the contract settlement were not released.

A union spokesman, Pedro Zayas, said details of the agreement could not be disclosed because negotiations are continuing at the 16 other nursing homes in the state where workers are currently working without a contract – though those workers, also, will not be going out on strike.

“This is a major victory for our Union members who are truly deserving of these wage raises and improved benefits,” said Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199 New England. “We feel proud of this achievement, and we are confident that we’ll be able to settle all pending contracts for our members in the near future.”

SEIU 1199 sent notices to the 25 nursing homes under strike notice for June 3rd that the union will not go out on strike on June 3rd, as threatened.. The new contract is subject to additional funding in Medicaid nursing home rates in the state budget that were previously announced by Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration.

“We thank our members for standing up for their rights and engaging in political action to make this victory a reality,” Baril said. “We also want to recognize our state leaders in the General Assembly and Governor Ned Lamont for following through on their promises of fair wages and benefits for nursing home caregivers.”

“Now our nurses, nursing assistants and all union staff can focus on providing the best quality care possible in our nursing homes,” Baril added.

More than 3,000 nursing home workers in the state were ready to strike on June 3rd.

Workers were demanding additional funding in the state budget to cover wage raises industry-wide for the next two years. With expired contracts for the past two years, these caregivers did not receive an increase in their salaries in 2016 and 2017.

They received a 2% raise in 2018 amounting to roughly 30 cents for most workers, but would not receive raises in 2019 and 2020 if the current state budget proposal is approved, as no money is included in Lamont’s budget proposal for the workers.

The National Labor Relations Act requires labor unions to give health care employers a minimum notice of 10 days before going on strike.
 
A previously set May 1st strike by the nursing home workers more than 2,500 workers across the state was called off as the workers’ union said progress was being made in new contract negotiations.

But the strike date was re-established last week when union representatives said not enough progress was being made on contract negotiations.

Further complicating matters is a bill approved by both the House and Senate that Lamont has said he will sign that will increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 over the next few years — an amount that exceeds what many nursing home workers currently earn.

What emerged following a recent union press conference about a possible strike 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, but a recent letter from his budget director said a 4% increase over four years would be included in the budget.

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.

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.