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Connecticut group home workers call strike, demand more state funding to lift them out of poverty

Evelyn Cruz, a DSP, direct support professional leads a chant as she and other group home workers strike near one of their group homes on October 12, 2021 in Columbia, Connecticut.
Joe Amon
Connecticut Public
Evelyn Cruz, a DSP, direct support professional leads a chant as she and other group home workers strike near one of their group homes on October 12, 2021 in Columbia, Connecticut.

The union representing care providers in Connecticut’s group homes for individuals with developmental disabilities plans to strike on Wednesday, May 24. Workers want the state budget to include hundreds of millions of additional dollars to support increased wages and benefits.

The strike would impact six agencies around the state: Oak Hill, Mosaic, Whole Life, Network, Caring Community, and Alternative Services.

“Connecticut must end poverty for all caregivers,” said Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199NE, the New England Health Care Employees Union, in a statement announcing the work stoppage. “Group home workers keep showing up to work because they love caring for others, because they believe that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities should have access to the opportunities and supports that let all of us enjoy a meaningful life.”

Baril said some of his union’s members earn just $17 an hour despite years of experience, with some living in their cars and working second and third jobs to make ends meet.

In a statement, the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services said: “DDS is working with providers, families, and staff to ensure the health and safety of the individuals we support. Providers continue to keep the department apprised of communications with those individuals and families who may be affected throughout the process. While we cannot comment on the status of current contract negotiations between the union and private providers, we are hopeful this matter will be resolved soon.”

The union says the roughly 1,700 workers set to strike at 6 a.m. next Wednesday, “require $400 million in additional Medicaid funding in the state’s biennial budget to lift workers out of poverty with a pathway to $25/hr minimum wage, access to affordable healthcare, and a pension that allows workers to retire after decades of service.”

Baril said half of the $400 million would be covered by federal matching funds.

“We are clear that this is a workforce that is not going to make any progress by relying on benevolent elected officials,” Baril said.

Barry Simon is president and CEO of Oak Hill in Hartford, one of the agencies that would be impacted by the strike. Simon said while it will be difficult to maintain a typical level of care during the work stoppage, he supports his roughly 700 striking workers.

“How much can you take, when you are clearly not valued, clearly not included, and clearly not treated with any kind of equity in the budget process?” Simon said.

“They’ve had enough,” Simon said.

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.
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