House Speaker Matt Ritter said talks over increased pay and benefits are now between striking group home workers and Gov. Ned Lamont, as lawmakers are set to approve a budget in the final days.
“I told the governor last night that you need to get this deal done, so I’m confident and hopeful that will get done in the coming days,” Ritter told reporters Monday morning.
Ritter said the current budget proposal includes roughly $50 million each year for the more than 1,700 group home and day program workers striking with New England Health Care Employees Union, SEIU 1199. He also said those workers would be eligible to get some of the money earmarked for nonprofits, as well.
Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199, told workers at a rally Monday that this amounted to about $125 million in additional money from the state over the next two years.
The extra funding for the unions drew frustration from the Connecticut Community Nonprofit Alliance, which was seeking funding for nonprofit service providers.
Alliance CEO Gian-Carl Casa said in a statement that “it appears that the bulk of the funding” going to nonprofits “will be earmarked” for the striking workers, while other nonprofit providers will only see a 2.5% increase in funding.
“This budget will hurt residential and outpatient addiction and mental health programs, worsen the workforce crisis, force the closing of programs, and create longer waiting lists,” Casa said. “We’ve warned of this for months. None of this should be a surprise.
SEIU 1199, which first went on strike May 24, has been demanding a $25 hourly minimum wage and better health and retirement benefits. The union has estimated this would cost $400 million over the biennium, split evenly between state funding and Medicaid.
“What we’re hearing is we’re not going to wind up with nearly what we deserve,” Baril told union workers who gathered in the Emanuel Lutheran Church for Monday’s rally. “But you have to remember where we started.”
Baril said after the rally that the union is committed to “rock it until the wheels fall off” with the strike, and his comments were not meant as an acceptance.
He also said he’s not aware of any recent talks with Lamont about additional funding.
“We’re trying to have some dialogue,” Baril said. “We’re not quite where we need to be. I think we are hopeful we can positively impact things at this stage.”
A spokesman for Lamont’s office did not respond to a request for comment. But Ritter expressed hope the two sides can come to a deal to end the strike, which will enter its third week Wednesday.
Ritter said he’s encouraged Lamont and his budget office to find funding with the Department of Developmental Services budget.
“My guess is they could probably find a little more in some line items, as well, that has not been spoken for,” he said. Ritter also said lawmakers would come back in to find a solution of their own if the strike continued.
Baril said the union has not yet scheduled a vote to end the strike, even after the budget. He said the members want to see a contract before that happens.
Meanwhile, workers continued to make their plea for more pay and better benefits during Monday’s rally.
“We shouldn’t have to be dead to meet our deductible,” said Alana Davis, who works with Whole Life Inc.
Workers also continued to picket outside the Capitol and Legislative Office Building.