Dozens of home care workers and the clients they serve showed up Thursday outside Gov. Ned Lamont’s Greenwich home to demand the state iron out a contract using $240 million in federal funds designated for community programs.
Union officials say the personal care attendants don’t make a living wage, don’t get health insurance, don’t get paid time off and don’t have a path to retirement. Now, as infection rates rise and they continue to show up every day to care for the state’s most vulnerable residents, they also do not have access to paid sick time if they contract COVID-19, said Diedre Murch, a vice president with the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU.
“The state needs to figure out a bridge to get through this,” Murch said.
The two sides have been at a stalemate with no activity for six months, Murch said, but they have a bargaining date scheduled next week.
The union represents 10,000 PCAs, more than 80% of whom are female, Murch said. About one in five has no access to health care insurance, about 20% said they feared or experienced homelessness and about two-thirds rely on some type of public assistance, Murch said.
“They lack any economic security people deserve to rely on, especially those who care for the state’s most vulnerable,” she said.
The union is seeking pay raises to $20 an hour, paid sick time and time off, and a path to retirement – much like the new contracts that the union negotiated for nursing home and group home workers. Since the PCAs are paid by their clients with Medicaid funding channeled through state agencies, they can’t strike without impacting the people whose care they provide.
The lack of paid sick time has become an issue. The federal funding that gave businesses, including the state of Connecticut, tax credits to pay for sick time if a home care worker contracted COVID-19, ended on Sept. 30.
Angel Bailey, who has worked as a PCA for three years, didn’t know the COVID-19 sick time funding had expired, she said. She found out just before she tested positive for COVID-19 last week. She believes she caught the virus on the job since several people in her client’s apartment building also tested positive for COVID-19.
She is upset that her client didn’t make her aware that others had tested positive and she said she took every precaution she could. “I am vaccinated and I wear a mask,” Bailey said.
She has lost her sense of taste and smell, is out of breath if she does too much and couldn’t get up at all for a couple of days because she was weak and tired, she said. Bailey said she’ll be lucky if she only misses two weeks of work – she started feeling ill on Nov. 30 and hasn’t been back to work since.
The stretch without pay is going to put her in “hardship,” she said. “If I don’t work, I can’t pay bills.”
The reality is that without benefits including sick time, PCAs are forced to work even if they don’t feel well or could be contagious, said Lucas Blinn, a PCA from Wallingford.
If he has to choose between feeding his family and going to work sick, Blinn said he is going to work. “That risks my consumer, and that’s your fault, Ned Lamont,” Blinn said.