Group home worker Jennifer Brown on the picket line Credit: Christine Stuart / CTNewsJunkie

Front line employees of adult care group homes were striking Tuesday morning over complaints that Sunrise Northeast had stalled on passing the benefits of a union-negotiated boost in state funding onto its workers. 

Sunrise Northeast Opportunities runs 28 facilities and day programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Workers formed picket lines outside group homes in Columbia, Danielson, Hartford and New London. 

Group home workers, represented by New England Health Care Employees Union SEIU District 1199, were poised to strike in June but relented when the state directed an additional $184 million in Medicaid funding for increased wages and benefits. While other group home operators have agreed to better pay and health care plans for their workers, Sunrise has dragged its feet, according to the union.

On the picket line outside the Hartford facility, Jennifer Brown, a front line worker with almost 25 years on the job, said some of Sunrise’s competitors had agreed to pension plans for their employees and others had sweetened their existing retirement plans. Meanwhile, Brown said Sunrise’s health care plans remained expensive forcing her to take another job to access more affordable insurance.  

“[Sunrise] wouldn’t sign off for the health insurance and the pension that the governor said we have money for,” Brown said. 

In a Tuesday statement, Dawn Frey, executive director of Sunrise Northeast, said her organization remained focused on negotiating a fair contract.

“Sunrise Northeast is committed to reaching a contract that is sustainable and gives our employees wage increases and benefits they deserve,” Frey said. “We submitted requests to the state last week seeking additional funding for healthcare and retirement and are awaiting those decisions. We’ve tentatively agreed to wage increases and remain committed to negotiating, including over some Union proposals we just received last week.”

Brown said Sunrise had been slow-walking improved benefits its workers were entitled to. Group home workers stayed on the job through difficult times during the COVID pandemic, she said.  

“We deserve this and if the governor– and we fought in June to get that [boost in funding] and if we’re fighting now because that $30 million that they could’ve put in for but they didn’t and now they’ve put in for but won’t sign off? We deserve it and we’re going to get it and we’ll be out here till we get it,” Brown said.