SEIU 1199 group home workers who are on strike take over the state Capitol Credit: Mike Savino photo

Group home and day program workers took their strike to the Capitol Wednesday, demanding the state budget include the money needed for a wage bump and other demands. 

Workers with the New England Health Care Employees Union, SEIU 1199NE launched an indefinite strike earlier in the day, hoping to put pressure on lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont as they negotiate a budget. 

Leaders in the House of Representatives said a final budget deal will include more money, but nowhere near the request from SEIU. 

“That is true, we are not able to get to $200 million,” House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, told reporters, referencing the estimated total for the unions’ requests. 

House Minority Leader Vincent Cadelora, R-North Branford, was more pointed, criticizing the union for striking with two weeks left in the legislative session. 

The union is seeking a minimum wage hike from the current $17.25 per hour up to $25 per hour over the next two years. The workers also want more affordable healthcare and adequate retirement benefits. 

The union estimates their request will cost $400 million in additional funding — $200 million from the state budget with an equal match in Medicaid funding. 

The striking union includes more than 1,700 group home and day program workers who provide services for individuals with disabilities at Medicaid-funded programs around Connecticut. 

“During the pandemic, they called us heroes but they treat us like zeroes, essentially,” Mark Fisher, an assistant manager with Alternative Services Connecticut, Inc., or ASI-CT. 

Ritter said lawmakers have agreed with Lamont on a “framework” for a budget, but all sides are still working out the details. 

He said it will have more money — his office said there’s no firm number yet —, but it will be significantly less than what SEIU 1199 is seeking.

Ritter said budget rules, recently renewed by lawmakers, limit how much extra spending the new budget can include. 

“I think the general feeling is, we’re living within our means and being sustainable,” he said.

Ritter said he wants to avoid repeats of past budget cycles, when lawmakers would promise funding but have to make cuts when revenues fell short of projections. 

Ritter also pushed back against criticism that the budget didn’t provide enough support for various services, saying people need to look at everything the General Assembly does. The CT Community Nonprofit Alliance organized its own rally Wednesday for more funding. 

“It’s not just this year, you have to look at are we stable enough to continue policies from 2022, 2023, and we will always continue to try to find money in the next biennium for nonprofits and these workers,” he said. “That’s always a priority.” 

That includes funding for a minimum wage increase just two years ago for SEIU 1199 workers. Fisher said the increase was “nice,” but it’s not enough to keep up with the economy. 

“Due to inflation, gas costs, the rise of electricity — all that money’s gone, it disappeared, it ate it all up,” he said. “So now we’re back where we started from.” 

Candelora agreed with Ritter’s assessment of the budget. He also said he was “disappointed” the union chose to strike instead of waiting for budget negotiations. 

“If they’re not willing to take what they’re being provided now, they might not become a priority in the long run if we just can’t make it work,” he said. 

SEIU is planning more attempts to put pressure on lawmakers, include setting up tents around the Capitol. The union said the tents represent workers’ struggle to keep up with rising housing costs. 

“We’re letting them know that you do this now,” Fisher said about the timing of the strike.