Connecticut nursing home workers secure “basic agreement”, postpone strike

The State government led by governor Ned Lamont and SEIU’s District 1199 New England finalized a “basic agreement” of USD 267 million just hours before the strike by around 2,800 workers in over 26 nursing home facilities was set to begin

May 15, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
US nursing home workers strike
Nursing home workers protest at Hartford, Connecticut, on March 10 demanding better wages and compensation. (Photo: SEIU District 1199 NE)

Just hours before thousands of nursing home workers were set to stage a walk-out in the US State of Connecticut, a major tentative deal was agreed to by the State government. The workers represented by the Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) District 1199 New England and State governor Ned Lamont reached a “basic agreement” on Thursday, May 13. The agreement will offer USD 262.2 million in overall State funding to nursing homes to offset lost revenues and added expenses incurred during the pandemic.

The State’s funding offer, although lower than the previously rejected offer of USD 280 million, will include a temporary 10% hike in Medicaid rates. While all the nursing homes in question are private facilities, government funding plays a key role in their functioning. The State pays for a bulk of the wages and the upkeep for facilities that come through Medicaid programs offered by the State.

Thursday’s agreement will also include a hike of 4.5% in wages and medical benefits for workers for the fiscal year 2021-2022 and 6.2% for 2022-2023. These rates will be maintained for the next two years of the contract. The earlier proposal only included a 4.5% increase for the first two fiscal years. The agreement will also change the average labor contracts in these facilities from the usual two-year period to four years.

The deal earmarks USD 145 million for additional wage enhancements and USD 13 million for training and labor development (down from USD 13.5 million) to offer certified nursing assistants pathways to become licensed practical nurses. Additional funds will be directed from COVID-19 relief funds for childcare support to nursing homes workers this year. Dedicated childcare support will be launched from January 15, 2022. Nursing homes will also be expected to fix the problem of overcrowding by converting three and four seat rooms to one and two seat rooms.

The new offer prompted the union to issue new notices for the 26 nursing homes that were to witness the walkout of nearly 2,800 workers on Friday, postponing the strike to June 7. The postponement will not affect the strike deadline of May 28 by over 1,200 workers in 13 other facilities. The union will make use of the postponement to negotiate final agreements with each of the nursing homes operators. Over 5,000 workers in 51 nursing homes have been employed under expired contracts since March 15.

The union announced on the same day that it has secured a new tentative deal with iCare, which runs 11 of the 26 nursing homes facing strike action. The new deal comes shortly after the announcement of the basic agreement by the State and sets minimum wages for certified nursing assistants at USD 20 per hour and USD 30 per hour for licensed practical nurses. The current wages for certified nursing assistants in the State range between USD 13 to USD 16 per hour. Only licensed practical nurses earn above USD 20 per hour. Other chains like Genesis and Autumn Lake are expected to follow suit.

Both the “basic agreement” from the State and the tentative agreements with each of the nursing home chains are yet to be implemented. District 1199 NE will need to ratify all the final agreements after a vote among its rank-and-file workers, while the State legislature needs to enact the Lamont funding proposal to disburse the funds.