A homecare worker gets arrested for blocking Capitol Ave. Credit: Christine Stuart photo

It’s the fourth time in the past few months that unionized homecare workers have been arrested trying to get to a contract with Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration. 

An estimated 60 people participated in a protest and 20 were arrested by Hartford Police for blocking Capitol Avenue Thursday. 

The homecare workers, who work in homes of elderly or disabled residents, can’t go on strike for better benefits or wages due to the nature of their work. But they’ve been hit hard by the pandemic and have struggled to pay the bills. 

They are paid $16.25 an hour with no benefits. 

“I’m out here because I was sick with COVID for seven weeks with no pay,” Betsy Windgate , one of the homecare workers, said. “I need insurance, I need paid time off.” 

The union wants the 10,000 home care workers paid through state Medicaid funding to receive $20 an hour, paid sick time, health care and a path to retirement much like the contracts that were approved for group home and nursing home workers.

The union officials said the state received $240 million for community-based care programs through the American Rescue Plan Act that can be used to bolster wages and benefits for home care workers who are struggling. Their contract ran out on June 30, 2021 but negotiations have been spotty since then, union officials said.

But since federal funding for COVID-19 sick days for PCAs ran out at the end of September, anyone who takes time off to recover from the virus doesn’t get paid, union officials said.

“I need Governor Lamont to step up to the plate and give us our wages that we’re due,” Windgate said. 

No one in Lamont’s administration responded to requests for comment about the protest. 

A survey done by New England Heath Care Employees Union, SEIU District 1199, which represents the workers found close to 75% of 760 home care workers paid through state Medicaid funding relied on state assistance to get by in the past year.

More than 35% relied on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, to feed themselves and their families and 42% have paid late fees or had bills go into collection during the same period, the survey revealed.

It’s a problem that has festered for more than a year as the union and state officials have gone back and forth over a new contract that would raise wages, provide health care and retirement benefits and paid time off to a workforce that is predominantly Black, Hispanic and working-class white women, SEIU 1199 President President Rob Baril has said.