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Group Home Union Workers Make A Stand In Hartford As Friday Strike Deadline Looms

Unionized group home workers, and operators, are appealing to state leaders to set aside more funding for the industry as a strike scheduled for Friday looms.

Their demands follow closely behind a funding deal last month between the state and union nursing home workers to reach a $20 minimum wage and better benefits. 

“We’re really hopeful that the state decides that home care workers and group care workers deserve no less and that in the next several hours we can come to an agreement with something very similar,” Stephanie Deceus, vice president of group homes for SEIU District 1199 New England, said Wednesday afternoon during a rally in Hartford.

More than 2,100 union workers caring for people with developmental, mental and physical disabilities are prepared to step off the job beginning at 6 a.m. Friday at about 200 sites across Connecticut unless state leaders allocate more money for the industry in the next biennial budget.

Closed-door budget negotiations between legislators and Gov. Ned Lamont’s office are ongoing, but House speaker Matt Ritter, a Democrat representing Hartford, said Wednesday morning that a proposal could be brought to the state House of Representatives for a vote as early as Saturday.

Group home workers and union leaders want assurance that more money for wage increases, health benefits and staffing is included in those plans.

“It is not OK to have to worry whether you can put food on the table, it is not OK to worry if you could have health insurance, it is not OK to worry whether $14.75 [an hour] is enough to help you save for your retirement, because it’s not,” Deceus said.

Although a strike deadline is set for Friday, group home operators and owners said they will begin transferring residents and clients into nursing homes as early as Thursday morning after struggling to line up enough temporary workers.

Stephanie Deceus (left), vice president of group homes for SEIU District 1199 New England, leads a rally in Hartford on Wed., June 2, 2021, two days before a scheduled strike at 200 group home locations.
Nicole Leonard
Connecticut Public Radio
Stephanie Deceus (left), vice president of group homes for SEIU District 1199 New England, leads a rally in Hartford on Wed., June 2, 2021, two days before a scheduled strike at 200 group home locations.

Barry Simon is president and CEO of Oak Hill, one of six group home agencies that would be impacted by a strike. The nonprofit operates about 70 locations across the state.

“We have been desperately trying for the past month to get temp workers,” he said. “We need about 600 temp workers to fill all of the shifts that we have. We’ve been able to secure about 13,” he said.

Other group home agencies affected by a potential strike include Journey Found Inc., Network Inc., Sunrise Northeast, and Whole Life Inc.

Simon joined union workers Wednesday in Hartford as they rallied in the hopes of reaching a deal with the state.

“We’ve gone 14 years with flat rates or actually decreased rates at times,” he said, “and so we would love to be able to pay our employees reasonable wages. I mean, they need livable wages, they need good medical benefits, they need to be able to retire, and we want to be able to do that.”

David Hadden, chair of Oak Hill’s board of directors and a father of two disabled children, now deceased, added that relocating clients would be difficult on them and their families.

“They are disoriented, they’re confused, they’re frightened, and they just don’t understand why they’re going to be asked to leave their homes and the caregivers in whom they have trust and familiarity,” he said.

Increases in pay and benefits would help workers like Laverne Hatcher, a direct care specialist at Journey Found, who said she then wouldn’t have to worry so much about rent, groceries and other costs of living. As things are now, she picks up extra shifts sometimes to make more money.

“I would be able to afford those things along with spending time with my family, my grandchildren, taking them on a trip or something, doing something that other people that have privilege are able to do,” Hatcher said. “And I think it’s not fair that we care for people that no one else wants to care for, and we care for them with our heart and we’re not compensated for it.”

Hatcher said it can be a tough job.

“But it’s a job that I would not trade,” she said. “I love my job, and I’m going to continue to do it for as long as I can.”  

Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio
Nicole Leonard / Connecticut Public Radio
Connecticut Public Radio

Copyright 2021 Connecticut Public Radio

Nicole Leonard joined Connecticut Public Radio to cover health care after several years of reporting for newspapers. In her native state of New Jersey, she covered medical and behavioral health care, as well as arts and culture, for The Press of Atlantic City. Her work on stories about domestic violence and childhood food insecurity won awards from the New Jersey Press Association.
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