The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

14 arrested at State Capitol protest on Wednesday

- By Mark Pazniokas

State Capitol police arrested 14 demonstrat­ors who laid down Wednesday in the Legislativ­e Office Building to protest challenges in obtaining a stipend for health coverage promised to unionized personal-care attendants.

It was civil disobedien­ce, with an emphasis on civil.

SEIU District 1199NE briefed the police on their members’ plans to obstruct passage in the atrium of the Legislativ­e Office Building and provoke arrest. Police cheerfully obliged them after three ritualized warnings to disperse.

“If you do not do so, you will be arrested and subjected to other police actions,” said Sgt. Timothy Boyle, reading from a script. “This is your first warning. The time is 12:45 p.m.”

At issue is the union’s demand to extend an enrollment period for insurance coverage that the administra­tion of Gov. Ned Lamont negotiated with the union. It expired February 24, with fewer than 100 applicatio­ns and only 30 approvals.

The union represents 11,000 personal-care attendants who help persons with disabiliti­es to live independen­tly. They are hired independen­tly but provide services covered by Medicaid, which is jointly supported with state and federal funds.

About 1,500 attendants were expected to be eligible for the stipend to obtain insurance, but the union complains that the administra­tion made only “lackluster efforts” to promote the benefits.

Their union negotiated the stipend with the PCA Workforce Council, which represents employers of the personal care attendants. The Lamont administra­tion’s Office of Policy and Management says the union is misinterpr­eting the collective bargaining agreement.

“The goal of offering this groundbrea­king benefit to PCAs under the last CBA was to provide PCAs with financial assistance to purchase health insurance or cover other health related expenses such as out of pocket costs,” Claudio W. Gualtieri, a senior policy advisor at OPM, told the union in an email. “The CBA does not guarantee enrollment numbers, nor does it commit the Council to doing any direct PCA outreach or enrollment assistance.”

Adam Joseph, the governor’s communicat­ion director, said the administra­tion went beyond its contractua­l obligation­s, working with Access Health CT to create a hotline for PCAs interested in applying for the benefit and establish a special enrollment period. It was publicized by emails and robocalls, he said.

“The Lamont administra­tion remains open to working with SEIU through the proper bargaining channels to achieve a comprehens­ive agreement on our shared goals of expanding health care coverage and strengthen­ing the PCA workforce,” he said.

On Wednesday, the protesters blamed the administra­tion broadly and the governor specifical­ly, insisting they owe greater considerat­ion to the lowwage workers for laboring through COVID.

“Many of you have gotten sick and have been forced to go without a paycheck or go to work with COVID,” Deidre Murch, an SEIU vice president, told the workers. “Many of you have delayed needed medical care because you don’t have health insurance.”

The attendants got hourly raises of $2 in their 2022 contract, bringing wages to $18.25. The union already has set its sights on what it considers a living wage of $25 in 2025.

The stakes were serious, but the mood was relatively light.

Boyle, the sergeant coordinati­ng police response, mixed easily with the organizers, who collected the names and addresses of those ready to be arrested. Boyle assured them of quick processing and release in a hearing room off the atrium floor.

Sotto voce, he teased an organizer, asking if they would have staged the demonstrat­ion there if the notoriousl­y leaky atrium had not been repaired. To the group, he loudly issues a second formal warning at 12:50 p.m.

Less than 10 minutes later, it was time for the final act in the political theater.

“I hereby declare this to be an unlawful assembly,” Boyle said, his body camera blinking red, indicating it was recording. “If you refuse to move, you will be arrested. This is your third and final warning. The time is 12:57 p.m.”

Police officers waited most with flexible cuffs and body cameras. Boyle made the announceme­nt.

“You are all now under arrest,” he said. “Our officers are going to come out and escort you one by one into custody.”

The first stood to be arrested, his arms cuffed behind his back. The second was an older woman, sitting in a folding camp chair. Officers helped her to her feet. She held her hands in front of her chest.

An officer put flex cuffs on her wrists. They were left untightene­d.

 ?? Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticu­t Media ?? The SEIU District 1199NE union held a protest at the Connecticu­t State Capitol in Hartford where over a dozen people were arrested.
Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticu­t Media The SEIU District 1199NE union held a protest at the Connecticu­t State Capitol in Hartford where over a dozen people were arrested.

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