The New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU, settled on a new contract for group home and day program workers at Network Inc. on Wednesday, cancelling the October 5th strike notification of 300-plus union members at the agency.
Network Inc. is the first community programs agency (group home and day program providers) to settle an agreement with the Union based on the additional Medicaid funding allocated by the State of Connecticut for the next two years. The new contract, effective retroactively to July 2021 and expiring in March 2023, includes significant reductions in health care costs, an increase in the employer’s pension contribution to 9.5% and unprecedented wage raises for all workers, in a workforce that is mostly constituted by Black, Latina and White working-class women.
“The economic and racial justice advancements negotiated in this contract are historic in the Medicaid group homes sector. Union members and the administration at Network Inc. should be proud of our achievements today,” said Rob Baril, president of District 1199. “Some of our members have waited over 15 years to get compensated with wages and benefits that truly reward their hard work. This contract sets a high bar for other operators to come to the table and give workers a fair chance to improve our lives.”
The new contract increases the minimum wage, currently set at $14.75 per hour, to $17.25 by July 2022, a 17% boost. More experienced workers get up to a 5% increase for 2021, and similarly for 2022 according to step classifications. Health care premium insurance costs will be reduced by up to 90% so workers can care for themselves and their family members.
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“We love our work and we love our clients. We’ve been waiting for a decent raise for years. We’ve made so many sacrifices and we’ve put so many hours on the job during COVID-19 that we were not going to settle for anything less,” said Evelyn Addy, a direct caregiver born in Ghana with 15 years of experience. “As a mother and a wife sometimes I don’t go home because the income is so low I have to work two jobs. This is backbreaking labor. We work long nights. It was getting to the point where I was considering taking a pay cut to get better health insurance.”
Additional compensation will also be provided for mandated shifts, holiday pay, and part-timers. The parties also agreed to track and review disciplinary action to address concerns of potential racial discrimination.
“When I was younger, I didn’t need health insurance. But here I am 15 years later and every time I go to the doctor I get a bill. Now we’ll be able to pay for our health care without being afraid to go to the doctor because the bills keep piling up,” said Kevin Mackie. “I am a white male working in a predominantly Black, and Brown field. The majority is also female. I believe that if this were a white male predominant field, we would never have to work this hard to get any type of help.”
While the Union called off the pending strike at Network Inc., the members of District 1199 at Whole Life continue negotiations with a strike deadline of October 5th at 6:00 AM if no agreement is reached. Two additional strike notices were delivered today by the Union for Sunrise and Alternative Services affecting roughly 160 and 100 workers respectively, effective October 12th at 6:00 AM. More strike votes are underway at multiple community program group home agencies.
“We are writing a new chapter for long-term care services in Connecticut. Working together with the State and operators on the problem of poverty wages, unaffordable health care for caregivers, retirement opportunities and dignity in the workplace, we are ever closer to a full transformation of the long-term care sector,” Baril. “We thank Governor Ned Lamont and the Connecticut General Assembly for their investments in these critical services. But we still have a lot of work to do to stabilize our nursing home, community programs and home care workforce with livable wages and benefits.”
Last June, group home workers secured an additional $184 million in state funding as part of the Union’s Long-Term Care Workers Bill of Rights campaign to pay for wage increases, reduce health insurance costs and solidify pension contributions. But except for Network Inc., community program operators have failed to settle on new agreements.
Whole Life workers and the majority of their colleagues at other group home and day program agencies are making $14 to $15 an hour caring for individuals with disabilities in a long-term care setting that remained severely underfunded for the past 15 years.
District 1199 New England nursing home workers were able to settle dozens of new contracts during the summer after securing millions of dollars in additional funding from the state. The Union represents more than 4,000 group home and day program workers in nonprofit community program agencies across Connecticut.
Contact: Pedro Zayas, firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-830-2478
District 1199, SEIU, New England Health Care Employees Union