Health care workers postpone strike

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Nursing home in Prospect was among facilities targeted

PROSPECT — A union representing about 3,500 workers at 27 nursing homes across the state said this week it has agreed to postpone a strike at the request of Gov. Dannel Malloy.

District 1199 of the Service Employees International Union said in a news release it received the request from Malloy and discussed it with the rank and file.

“While our members remain committed to fighting for a fair wage, they have agreed to postpone the strike,” union spokeswoman Jennifer Schneider said in the release. “It is our hope that the governor and legislators take this opportunity to make a fair wage for caregivers and quality care for residents a top priority in the budget.”

Mark Bergman, a spokesman for Malloy’s office, said the governor reached out to both sides to request a “cooling off period.”

“We have told both sides that any type of work stoppage is not helpful, so we got involved to avoid a strike,” Bergman said.

The governor requested that the strike be postponed “while the state budget is being negotiated,” he said. “We’ve got to wait to see what the legislature puts together to see where we are.”

The union voted last week to authorize the strike and delivered a required 10-day notice to the nursing homes last Wednesday, which set the walkout to begin Friday at 6 a.m. The 27 nursing homes are in 20 communities — including in Prospect. They are owned by three major chains — Genesis, iCare and Paradigm — and employ about 3,500 unionized workers, the union said.

Paradigm operates six nursing homes in the state, including the Healthcare Center of Prospect. Schneider said the Prospect facility has about 90 beds and about 95 workers that would have been affected by the strike.

Contracts with all three nursing home chains expired March 31. One of the major issues is the union’s demand that its workers statewide be paid a minimum of $15 an hour. The nursing home chains are also seeking concessions in benefits.

The union has said that more than 50 percent of unionized nursing workers in the three chains’ nursing homes, excluding nurses, are paid less than $15 per hour.

Matthew Barrett, executive vice president of the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities Inc. in East Hartford, which represents the nursing home chains, called the decision to rescind strike notices “welcome news” for facility residents, their caregivers and the facility operators alike.

“Nursing facility residents in the affected homes and their caregivers can rest a little easier for the time being now that the immediate threat of a labor action has been called off,” Barrett said in a news release.

Barrett said the facilities are not financially able to meet the union’s demands due to the instability of Medicaid funding for skilled nursing facilities in the pending Connecticut state budget.

Barrett said in a news release skilled nursing facility funding has been relatively flat since 2007 while operator costs have risen dramatically. He said Medicaid payments today are $28 below the cost of providing care to Medicaid recipients per day.

“Increasing employee wages and benefits can only be reasonably expected when overdue Medicaid dollars are provided to all nursing facility operators,” Barrett said in the release.
Malloy has not taken a position on the union’s demand for $15-per-hour wages, Bergman said.

Elio Gugliotti contributed to this article.