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December 10, 2021

Health care workers’ union reaches deal to end strike against nonprofit

Photo | CT Mirror SEIU 1199 President Rob Baril, center, and union members speak during a July rally at the Legislative Office Building.

Connecticut’s largest health care workers’ union reached a tentative agreement this week, ending its two-month-long strike against a major provider of residential and other services for the developmentally disabled.

More than 180 members of SEIU District 1199 New England must now vote on the tentative deal with Sunrise Northeast Inc., which operates 28 group home and day services programs spread across 17 communities in eastern and central Connecticut. They serve more than 160 disabled clients.

Union officials did not release full details of the tentative agreement struck late Tuesday but confirmed in a written statement that the package is retroactive to July 1 and runs through March of 2023.

“We see this agreement as an enormous step forward in the fight for economic and racial justice,” said Stephanie Deceus, a vice president with District 1199, who said no further details would be provided until the deal was ratified.

The union statement also quoted Charmayne Brown, a caregiver with 14 years of service at Sunrise, who said that “With this contract, we have achieved historic wage increases, real affordable health care and a retirement with dignity. My coworkers and I look forward to getting back to our clients whom we love and miss.” 

Dawn Frey, executive director for Sunrise Northeast, could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The work stoppage against Sunrise was just the latest move in a long-running struggle involving low-paid health care workers, a financially strapped nonprofit social services industry, and the state — which relies on the private sector to deliver the bulk of its human services programs.

Most of these nonprofits, the union asserts, have long provided their workers — most of whom are minority women — with little more than minimum wage salaries, expensive yet low-quality health insurance, and meager retirement benefits, if any.

Strikes planned for Oct. 5 against two other nonprofit service providers for the disabled — Network Inc. and Whole Life — were averted as management and labor struck last-minute deals.

The union made similar claims this spring against dozens of Connecticut nursing homes, which also receive a major chunk of their funding from government sources in exchange for treating Medicaid and Medicare clients.

Gov. Ned Lamont and the General Assembly averted a nursing home strike in May by committing additional resources for worker compensation in the biennial state budget that began July 1.

They also allocated another $184 million across this fiscal year and next to improve compensation and benefits at private, nonprofit agencies that contract with the Department of Developmental Disabilities.

But leaders of the nonprofit social services industry have said the problem is more complex than union leaders have presented it.

The industry suffers from decades of state underfunding, and $184 million extra — spread across two fiscal years — doesn’t come close to reversing all of that damage.

And the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance, the state’s largest coalition of nonprofits, asserts the state still hasn’t defined exactly how much of that $184 million each nonprofit agency will receive and when they will receive it. 

Agencies specifically don’t know how much state aid they will get to fund health care and retirement benefits.

“In general, providers can only pay according to what they’re being paid by the state,” Gian-Carl Casa, president and CEO of the alliance, said Monday.

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