The chain of group home and day programs for adults with intellectual disabilities that has been the subject of a six-week strike is claiming that union officials are rebuffing their efforts to come to an agreement that would end the labor action.
Sunrise Northeast has offered the New England Health Care Employees Union SEIU 1199 pay raises for staff of 4 to 7% two years in a row, $1,000 payments to employees, the health care proposal the union wants and additional contributions to the retirement plan to end the strike, according to the company’s executive director, Dawn Frey.
But Frey said union officials haven’t agreed to the terms and are still bucking random drug testing for employees for substances other than marijuana.
“We are committed to ending this strike,” Frey said in a statement issued Monday. “Our focus remains on the good work we do. The individuals we care for deserve better. We want them in their homes. We know our employees care deeply about our individuals and want them home for the holidays too.”
Some of the adults that live in the group homes have been transferred to nursing homes since there aren’t enough staff to take care of them, Frey said a few weeks ago.
About 150 members of the union who work at Sunrise facilities went on strike on Oct. 12 to demand better wages, cheaper health care premiums and a path to retirement.
Group home workers at other companies throughout the state threatened to strike earlier this year. But the actions were averted when state officials released $184 million in funding to meet their demands.
The company has offered the union pay increases retroactive to July 1 for this fiscal year and next based on years of service and contingent on state funding, Frey said. She said it has also offered lower health care premiums and other benefits the union wants.
The highest raises would go to employees who have been with the company for more than 15 years, Frey indicated. Those employees would get a 7% raise this fiscal year and 6% in the next fiscal year. Employees with one to five years of service would get a 4% increase this fiscal year and a 3% increase in the next fiscal year, according to Frey.
“We presented a good package offer to the union that we believe is sustainable and can end this strike,” said Frey, who also noted that the wage increases exceeded the union’s proposal.
But she said the union won’t agree to random drug testing for substances other than cannabis, which now can be used legally by adults.
Union officials said Sunrise Northeast would only give up testing for cannabis if employees agreed to give up their pensions.
“These statements from Sunrise Northeast only add insult to injury,” said union President Rob Baril. “This agency has kept its workers down as third-class citizens for too long, charging over $6,000 monthly in health insurance premiums. Meanwhile, the CEO is making over $300,000 per year. But the Black, Latina, and white working women in the front lines of Sunrise Northeast struggle to survive.”
The contracts with six other group home operators were settled with a defined pension plan and affordable health care for 1,000 employees, Baril said.
“Sunrise Northeast must understand that the workers put up a fight to win $184 million in additional funding from the State of Connecticut,” Baril said. “The brave union caregivers of District 1199, SEIU, will not give up on the strike until Sunrise Northeast has the dignity to treat its workers like human beings. Passing the state funding won by the workers into a new union contract would be a great place to start.”