HARTFORD, CT – Striking group home workers at Sunrise Northeast rallied Thursday against the company’s notification that they would be replaced with permanent employees if they didn’t return to work.
The New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU, which represents the 150 striking workers, says it amounts to worker intimidation.
“What Sunrise is doing is simply outrageous,” Union President Rob Baril said. “Sunrise is holding back from signing a new union contract that has been paid for by the state of Connecticut. Making threats to the brave caregivers who helped Sunrise through the hardest days of COVID-19, the same workers who fought and won millions of dollars in additional funding, shows us that Sunrise only cares about its top level executives down in Florida. Sunrise should not be allowed to do this in our state. Sunrise workers deserve a lot better than this.”
The strike started on Oct. 12 after the company failed to agree to a new contract that included pay raises, cheaper health care premiums and a path to retirement.
Several other companies that run group homes and day programs for developmentally and physically disabled adults have settled with the union providing better pay and other benefits by utilizing $184 million in state funding.
The union and Sunrise have been at an impasse for more than two months, with both sides saying the other isn’t willing to agree to the terms of a new contract.
Sunrise Northeast announced recently that it offered the union 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 union officials turned down the offer because the company wanted to withhold retirement benefits in exchange for not requiring random drug tests for cannabis use.
Some state officials including Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, are questioning why the company hasn’t settled like the rest of the group home owners since state funding for the agreements is available.
“I am very disappointed, especially considering everything these workers went through during COVID-19,” Ritter said in a press release. “More than 1,000 union caregivers at group homes and day programs in Connecticut have signed and ratified new contracts with identical language as proposed to Sunrise, backed by millions of dollars in new funding.”
“The best thing Sunrise can do right now for the people who need services and for its own workers is to settle a contract without further delay as we go into the holidays,” he added.
Members of other unions and more than a dozen state legislators and representatives from Connecticut US Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy showed up at the rally to support the workers.
“The low wages and overly expensive health insurance provided by Sunrise is unconscionable,” said Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, who attended the rally. “These workers deserve better pay and better health care. They take care of some of our most vulnerable residents and we need to support them.”
The workers miss the people who they have taken care of day in and day out, said Carina Moore who has been with Sunrise Northest for two years. “I miss my girls, I don’t want to be striking, I want to be with my girls, taking care of my girls,” Moore said.
But the workers need healthcare and a living wage to be able to continue, Moore said, “We need to take care of ourselves and our families.”