Unionized workers plan to rally in Hartford Thursday to mark a full month since they went on strike over stalled contract negotiations with Sunrise Northeast, a company that runs group homes for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. 

Sunrise operates 28 group homes and day programs for disabled adults in Connecticut. On Oct. 12, workers formed picket lines outside group homes in Columbia, Danielson, Hartford and New London. 

Their union, New England Health Care Employees Union SEIU District 1199, claims the company has refused to agree to acceptable benefits for its workers, even after the state directed an additional $184 million in Medicaid funding to group homes in an effort to avoid another strike earlier this year. 

The union has organized a 10 a.m. rally outside the company’s Hartford facility on Whitney Street. According to a press release, the rally will mark the first speaking event for Ed Hawthorne, the newly-minted head of Connecticut AFL-CIO. Hawthorne took over for the union’s former president Sal Luciano, who retired last month. 

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

Rob Baril, president of SEIU District 1199, said Tuesday that little had changed in the intervening weeks. He said the union had met with Sunrise representatives only near the beginning of the strike and talks had stalled over proposed pension benefits for the group home workers. 

“A defined benefit pension would allow this workforce of caregivers to be able to live out their golden years in dignity,” Baril said. “They’re refusing. It’s not going to cost the employer money out of their own pocket. The state of Connecticut stepped up … and said that our group home workers should not be in poverty in their senior years and allocated funds to provide for the union’s defined benefit pensions and the employer’s saying no.”

Dawn Frey, executive director of Sunrise Northeast, did not respond to a request for a comment Tuesday. In a statement last month, she said Sunrise had “tentatively agreed to wage increases” and was committed to continued negotiations.

Baril said Tuesday there had been no face-to-face talks for weeks and no negotiation sessions currently scheduled. He said a mediator is now involved in the process. 

“We hope that she is able to persuade the employer to come to their senses but for the time being, the workers are determined to fight one day longer than the boss,” Baril said.