Nursing home workers who say they risked their lives to go to work last year are getting ready to strike at 33 nursing homes across the state. They plan to strike May 14 if they can’t reach an agreement with the state.
“We didn’t leave our residents. We came in there. We watched our coworkers get sick. We watched our residents get sick. We watched some of them die,” Paulette Belin, a Norwich nursing home worker, said.
Belin has been a certified nursing assistant for 40 years and works 72 hours a week to pay her bills. She takes care of 21 patients every day.
“I’m living paycheck to paycheck,” Belin said.
Lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont are negotiating a bump in pay for nursing home workers as part of the state budget. They are hoping to avoid a strike.
“A strike costs the state about $2 million a day,” House Speaker Matt Ritter said.
Ritter said he would rather invest that money back into the workers at the nursing home and get a federal matching grant.
“It’s hard to rank who had the most difficult job last spring, but it’s hard to argue that health care workers weren’t right up there,” he said.
“I just can’t think of a more sympathetic thing that makes me say I’m going to fight very, very, very, very hard for them,” Ritter added.
Workers are currently paid between $12 and $15 an hour.
The union is asking for a new floor of $20 per hour, as well as increased staffing and better health care benefits.
Matthew Barrett, head of the Nursing Home Association, said they are also hoping to avoid a strike at all costs, but they can’t do that without the government's help.
“The lion's share of nursing home residents are funded by the government through the Medicaid program or the Medicare program,” Barrett said.
He said there’s enough money in the budget to take care of the issues.
Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director, said “ top aides have been engaged with leaders representing the nursing home workers.”
“At these 33 nursing homes the vote was 98% to authorize a strike. That tells me that workers in these facilities around the state are sick and tired of being ignored and until legislation is passed and until funding is allocated, I don’t think we’re going to stop,” Martin said.
“We’re asking to be able to live. To be able to keep roofs over our families’ head,” Belin said.