State lawmakers trying to avoid nursing home workers strike set for May 14

Politics

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — More than 40 nursing homes around the state are set to strike in a little over a week. Healthcare workers are fighting for more pay and more state funding for nursing homes. It’s a topic brewing among top lawmakers at the State Capitol.

More than 4,000 workers at 44 unionized nursing homes are set to strike on May 14. Union contracts expired in March.

RELATED: Nursing home workers at 30+ facilities across CT set to strike starting May 14

Suzanne Clark, the Secretary-Treasurer for District 1199 NE, told News 8, “What they’re really looking for is for the governor to show up and stand up for them just like they showed up for Connecticut.”

At issue: higher pay, better health insurance, and more state support for Medicaid reimbursement to facilities.

Top leaders at the capitol are working to avoid a crisis.

State Representative Matt Ritter, the Democratic House Speaker, estimates it would cost the state $2-million a day if there is a strike. Over a week’s time, that number grows.

“If there was a weeklong strike it cost the state $15-million,” said Speaker Ritter.

Those dollars cover strike costs like security, hotels, transportation, and replacement workers.

Speaker Ritter says a budget that’s going to be impactful should include more money for workers and nursing homes. The pandemic death toll evident in their industry.

Twenty-two union members died from COVID-19 in the last year.

“It’s hard to argue healthcare workers weren’t right up there and had the most difficult jobs. Asked to do the most dangerous things in March and April,” added Ritter.

“It certainly has been a pressure point for a number of years.” State Representative Vin Candelora, the Republican House Minority Leader, said.

The Appropriations Committee has proposed to include $34-million in the state budget. There is bipartisan support for increases. How much more is being negotiated.

Rep. Candelora says, “We still need to look at structural reform in our budget to be able to pay for this beyond two years.”

On Wednesday morning, the office of Governor Lamont released a statement, saying,

Gov. Lamont has demonstrated time and again how critical these workers have been during the pandemic. He’s followed up his word of support with action, providing extra pay to these workers, and proposing even more compensation for them under his Connecticut Recovery Plan which he submitted to the General Assembly last week. On the Governor’s behalf, top aides have been engaged with leaders representing nursing home workers.

Over the weekend union workers rallied outside the governor’s mansion.

RELATED: Hundreds gather at governor’s mansion demanding ‘recovery for all’ from pandemic

Twenty years ago, health care workers protested, got arrested, and the strike went on for weeks. Former Governor John Rowland paid for out-of-state replacement workers. A lawsuit was settled, but no one wants to repeat that magnitude of disruption.

“It has to change because everybody talks about going back to normal but when normal is broken…” remarked Clark.

As is required, nursing home operators have already met with the state Department of Public Health to make contingency plans to find replacement workers.

Matthew Barrett, President of the Connecticut Association of Healthcare Facilities added that many nursing homes are forecasting cash shortages or “negative cash flow” on the immediate horizon.

“A major investment in nursing homes is needed now as a bridge to the other side of the pandemic, and even more resources are needed to address collective bargaining issues.”

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