health care workers

Sunrise Caregiver Strike Hits One Month Mark

NBC Universal, Inc.

It’s been a month on the picket line, but some healthcare workers are not ready to give up their fight for better wages and benefits. 

“Their lives are disrupted. Our lives are disrupted and hopefully this doesn’t last too much longer,” Kim Adams, a worker at Sunrise Northeast Inc., says. 

Adams is worried about the developmentally and intellectually disabled clients she takes care of at a Sunrise Northeast facility. But she also believes she shouldn’t have to work 80 hours a week and still not make enough. 

“I still have to have people help me with food, presents for holidays, school clothes, because as soon as I pay everything I have $30 a week left over to buy groceries,” Adams says. 

“My kids, I never see them. I came home just to go to sleep," she added.

Adams is among 150 members of the New England Health Care Employees Union  SEIU 1199 who are on strike for better wages, affordable health insurance, and a pension. 

“We’re standing out here because it’s been 15 years we haven’t had a raise. Our insurance is $6,000 a month, no one can afford that. We don’t make $6,000 a month. And we don’t have a pension,” Jennifer Brown, who has worked at Sunrise for nearly 25 years, says. 

“You’ve heard from workers who have talked about working two, three and four jobs. They do not see their children. Health insurance is so unaffordable at this agency that not a single worker take it,” Rob Baril, president of SEIU 1199, says. 

Baril says state lawmakers and Gov. Ned Lamont stepped up to provide $184 million for raises and benefits for this workforce, but Sunrise still has not agreed to take the state’s money. 

“The legislature did its job, stepped up, the governor did his job $184 million bipartisan by the way so I’m just not sure what’s going on. The offers that you hear about just make no sense,” House Speaker Matt Ritter says. 

Dawn Frey, executive director of Sunrise Northeast Inc. says “we have asked to negotiate many times. The union has failed to respond and appears to have no intent of coming back to the negotiating table. “

Ritter says the company never responded to a letter he sent them. 

“They’re not financially bankrupt this company, but they might be morally bankrupt,” Ritter says. 

Ritter says he's unsure how to get the company to negotiate. 

“That is the lone entity that has not entered into an agreement with their workers. So it’s distressing. It’s very disappointing,” he added. 

Back at the picket line workers continue to worry about their clients. 

“I don’t want to be on strike. I’d rather be working. I’d rather be taking care of my girls,” Carina Moore, a health care worker at Sunrise, says.

The clients are hoping to come back too. Some have been moved to nursing homes.

Frey says says “because of the strike, we were left with no alternative but to place some of the individuals we care for in skilled nursing homes to ensure they receive the quality care they need. While we know those individuals are in good care, our goal is to get them home.”

Mark Fournier wasn't willing to let that happen to his daughter Kelsey.

"My message to Sunrise is stop playing around with the clients. Stop playing around with the clients and the aides, pay them what they are due and let’s get going and negotiate other things as you go along," he says.

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