Striking CT health care workers could be replaced, union says
HARTFORD — About 150 workers of a group home who have been on strike for seven weeks could be permanently replaced, the union said Thursday.
Days after Sunrise Northeast offered the workers a new contract that the union denied, the company has threatened to replace the striking workers permanently, according to a local chapter of the New England Health Care Employees Union Thursday.
Florida-based Sunrise offers residential services and day programs to more than 160 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in 28 locations in Connecticut.
About 149 union members and caregivers with Sunrise have been on strike since Oct. 12. These workers are demanding living wages, affordable health insurance and a pension.
On Nov. 22, Sunrise Northeast Executive Director Dawn Frey said the organization proposed a “good offer,” which included lower health care premiums, increased wages and retroactive wage payments. Frey, who could not be reached for comment on Thursday, did not mention a pension. The company set a Nov. 29 deadline for the workers to accept the new contract.
“We’ve told Sunrise many times that workers will not settle for anything less than all other union group home workers have settled for with the new state funding,” union representative Pedro Zayas said Thursday.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration arranged an $184 million, two-year deal in the state budget earlier this year to improve wages and enhance benefits to group home workers. But the union said Sunrise is “holding back from signing a new union contract that has been paid for by the state.”
“More than 1,000 union caregivers at group homes and day programs in Connecticut have signed and ratified new contracts with identical language as proposed to Sunrise, backed by millions of dollars in new funding,” said Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, DHartford.
“The best thing Sunrise can do right now for the people who need services and for its own workers is to settle a contract without further delay as we go into the holidays,” Ritter added.
According to the union, most of the organization’s caregivers are Black, Latina and white women making less than $18 an hour. The employees also allegedly have a high health insurance premium and no pension for retirement, the union states.
Dozens of striking caregivers rallied in front of Sunrise Northeast’s location in Hartford on Thursday.
“This job’s not an easy job to do,” said Moore, who has worked at Sunrise for two years. “We do this job because we love it, and shame on Sunrise right now for not
giving us what we need to provide for our families; for our retirements when we’re old and we need to be taken care of.”
According to the union, Sunrise has “threatened caregivers with permanent replacements due to their union activities.”
“What Sunrise is doing is simply outrageous,” said Rob Baril, president of the union, District 1199 SEIU. “Making threats to the brave caregivers who helped Sunrise through the hardest days of COVID-19, the same workers who fought and won millions of dollars in additional funding, shows us that Sunrise only cares about its top level executives down in Florida.”