Healthcare workers plead for higher wages

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) -- Nursing home workers that postponed their strike at 27 nursing homes last month were at the State Capitol Tuesday. They postponed their strike for higher wages at the request of the Governor until the state budget battle is completed.

The workers are pleading with lawmakers to find more money for Medicaid so that their employers will be willing to give them a raise.

By one estimate, 70-percent of the patients in Connecticut nursing homes are on Medicaid. That's where the bulk of healthcare workers wages come from. The workers at the Capitol were some of the 3,500 that postponed their strike last month in hopes the legislature would approve more funding.  

"I really need a raise, I know that we all do," said Kim Solomakos of Brooklyn, a Certified Nurses Aide at a nursing home in eastern Connecticut. "The cost of living has been going up and our wages stay the same."

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Many, mostly Certified Nurses Aides, work two jobs doing the hard work of taking care of the state's elderly and frail residents. Natasha Henry of Waterbury works at two nursing homes in Waterbury.  

"$13.74 and $12.35 an hour, that's not a lot because being a CNA is a tough challenge to go by today," she said. "We got to put up with a lot with residents, so I think $13.74 an hour, that's not enough."  

"You entrust them to us so we have to do our best, and I think we are overworked and we are underpaid," said Opal Hawes, who also lives and works in Waterbury.

"I have to work a lot of overtime to support my family; I'm a single mother," said Solomakos. "It's very hard to make car payments and buy food and all the costs with the wage that I make."

An additional $9 million has been proposed by the Appropriations Committee, but the healthcare workers union says that won't be enough. The union says the average age of these workers is 44, and despite having over 10 years of experience, more than half of them make less than $15 per hour.

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