Suzanne Clark and SEIU 1199 home care workers rally at the Capitol Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Connecticut’s home care workers, who have struggled without a contract since last summer, are celebrating today.

After almost a year of negotiations, the state has agreed to give the 10,000 workers a pay increase, health insurance, and even paid time off. 

The workforce, which is mostly women –predominantly women of color, take care of 6,000 of the state’s most vulnerable residents in their homes and are paid by the Department of Social Services and the state Department of Developmental Services through Medicaid funding. 

“Here today, we have taken more than a giant step,” Suzanne Clark, secretary treasurer of SEIU Healthcare 1199NE, said during a Wednesday rally at the state Capitol building. “We have revolutionized — to be able to have finally [paid time off], finally have a pathway and not just a foot in the door but a big foot in the door for health insurance and PTO for home care workers across Connecticut.”

At a protest outside the governor’s residence last month, Brenda Glazier, who cares for a man with a traumatic brain injury, said her house is in foreclosure and over the past year she’s had to work through COVID-19 because she had no sick days. 

“We’re caring for people who have health insurance and we don’t,” Glazier said. 

She said if they get sick they can’t take time off because they don’t get paid. Since federal funding for COVID-19 sick days for these workers ran out at the end of September, anyone who took time off to recover from the virus didn’t get paid, union officials said.

These workers, unionized through SEIU 1199, have been making $16.25 an hour and have not had any sick days or health insurance throughout the pandemic. They’ve also been unable to go on strike since they care for individuals in their homes. 

The home care workers will receive a 6% bonus on wages that’s retroactive to April 1, 2021. They will also receive three pay increases until they reach $18.25 an hour by 2023. And they will be eligible for premium assistance for health insurance that’s equal to 6% of their annual income. Finally, they will receive up to 80 hours of paid time off. 

Diedre Murch, vice president and director of home care for the New England Heath Care Employees Union, SEIU 1199, said a recent survey found 37% of their members are on food stamps. 

“Close to 20% have medical debt close to $1,000 that’s unpaid,” Murch said. 

She said by giving them a pay increase and health insurance would save the state money because fewer would qualify for these government subsidies. 

In February, 20 homecare workers were arrested by Hartford Police to call attention to the lack of a contract. 

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.

The General Assembly and the federal government will still have to sign off on the deal. 

House Speaker Matt Ritter said he expects swift approval because the money is already accounted for in the state budget. 

“Fully in support. It’s in the budget already and it’s terrific. Those people deserve that raise and I’m really glad the administration got there,” Ritter said.