Nursing Home Workers Lobby for Higher Wages

Nearly a month after postponing a scheduled strike for thousands of nursing home employees, about 100 of them took to the Connecticut Capitol to call for higher wages Tuesday as budget negotiations continue between the governor and top Democrats.

"Even with the money I make right now, I find it very hard to make ends meet," said Kwasi Asante-Boateng, who has worked as a cook for the better part of 16 years at a Manchester nursing home.

He makes $18 per hour, which is among the highest at nursing homes across the state.

"It’s very hard. The kind of work we do, the kind of sacrifices we make for the people that we love, which are the residents, you know what I’m saying, we get very little for it. We really do," said Asante-Boateng.

SEIU 1199 represents thousands of employees who work in dozens of Connecticut nursing homes. The group has participated in the "fight for $15" campaign to raise wages for the past year. SEIU had notified the governor and nursing homes of a strike that was supposed to take place toward the end of April.

Gov. Dannel Malloy spoke with union leaders and they agreed to postpone the strike until the state's budget was either final or near completion. The deadline for lawmakers to approve a budget is June 3, the last day of the General Assembly's legislative session.

Democrats did put roughly $10 million into the budget for nursing homes, restoring cuts Malloy proposed.

The combination of social services spending and changes to car taxes are items that top Democrats say are cornerstones of their budget proposal.

"It's the right thing to do," said Rep. Jeffrey Berger, a Democrat from Waterbury who chairs the tax-writing Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

His committee also proposed about $2 billion in taxes, which he says will guarantee that things like nursing homes will be funded well into the future.

"If it comes to car taxes, or payment in lieu of taxes or it comes to regional sharing, when it comes to fiscal responsibility for municipalities, it does all of that and more, and it brings true property tax relief for the first time in the history of Connecticut," Berger said.

Berger also contended that the version of the budget that the Appropriations Committee approved was the only one in balance, referring to the GOP proposal as "out of whack by about $600 million."

Republicans included a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, in their budget proposal unveiled last month. Rep. Themis Klarides, the Minority Leader in the Connecticut House, said she felt her caucus' budget was a more accurate reflection of how the state should spend its cash.

"When we looked at social services, DDS waiting lists, provider rates, and a two percent COLA for the providers, those are what we prioritized as far as social services go because these are the neediest of the people of the state of Connecticut," Klarides said.

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