Striking workers rallied Thursday at Sunrise Northeast as the group home and day program provider continues to deny workers a fair contract after more than a month on strike, and now the Florida agency has threatened caregivers with permanent replacements due to their union activities.
Direct support caregivers began striking on October 12 after Sunrise refused to lift workers out of poverty in spite of new funding for long-term care services in Connecticut.
“What Sunrise is doing is simply outrageous. Sunrise is holding back from signing a new union contract that has been paid for by the State of Connecticut. Making threats to the brave caregivers who helped Sunrise through the hardest days of COVID-19, the same workers who fought and won millions of dollars in additional funding, shows us that Sunrise only cares about its top level executives down in Florida,” said Rob Baril, president of District 1199, SEIU. “Sunrise should not be allowed to do this in our state. Sunrise workers deserve a lot better than this.”
“The low wages and overly expensive health insurance provided by Sunrise is unconscionable,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin M. Looney. “These workers deserve better pay and better health care. They take care of some of our most vulnerable residents and we need to support them.”
The 149 striking workers represented by 1199 at 28 Sunrise facilities in Connecticut consolidated all strike lines in Hartford. Most Sunrise workers are Black, Latina and white working women currently making less than $18 an hour, with a family health insurance premium of $6,000 monthly and no pension for retirement after providing decades of service.
“I am very disappointed, especially considering everything these workers went through during COVID-19. More than 1,000 union caregivers at group homes and day programs in Connecticut have signed and ratified new contracts with identical language as proposed to Sunrise, backed by millions of dollars in new funding,” said House Speaker Matt Ritter. “The best thing Sunrise can do right now for the people who need services and for its own workers is to settle a contract without further delay as we go into the holidays.”
Group home and day program caregivers are demanding that Sunrise do the right thing as so many other employers have done already. Sunrise Inc. must come to the table and sign a new union contract that reflects the $184 million in additional funding won by the workers and approved by Governor Ned Lamont’s administration.
“It’s disappointing to see Sunrise take this course instead of negotiating in good faith with frontline employees who have put their lives and well-being on the line since day one of this pandemic,” said Rep. David Arconti.
Additional statements of support by Connecticut elected officials for striking union workers:
“I stand in solidarity with you and all workers fighting for living wages and working conditions that respect employees. For many months during the pandemic you have stood tall, facing the dangers of COVID-19 to care for those who cannot care for themselves. And when you demand fair compensation and working conditions, your requests are rejected. This is wrong. This is unfair. That will not stand if we stand tall and strong together,” said US Sen. Richard Blumenthal.
“It is heartbreaking to see that the people who have been providing exceptionally high-quality care to the most vulnerable are being treated in an inhumane manner. I’m shocked and dismayed at how Sunrise is treating the workers who have done so much for all of Sunrise’s clients,” said Sen. Saud Anwar.
“Not one penny of Connecticut taxpayer dollars should be used to bust a union. If Sunrise isn’t willing to respect its care workforce in the middle of this pandemic, Connecticut should fire Sunrise,” said Sen. Matt Lesser.
“I was made aware of the turn in the course of the ongoing contract dispute between Sunrise and the workers – the people that we were just praising as heroes – of 1199. It is disturbing to think that an employer would operate this way with any group of workers, let alone a group whose very work recently has meant potential exposure to the deadly virus so many of us worked diligently to avoid.
Collective bargaining is essential to workers and their ability to access employment that treats them with the dignity and respect their labor commands. For an employer to move to replace workers when they believe the dispute should end, when they believe the workers have gotten enough, is nothing more than what we have always seen between labor and management. Despite agreements being in place, despite a right to assemble and bargain the boss wants cheap labor they can control and will obviate a contract, step outside of the resolution process to get it. When that happens we must stand together to push back. I wish I could be with you today but know that I stand with you in solidarity”, said Sen. Gary Winfield.