Gov. Ned Lamont's chief of staff said Tuesday that an additional $280 million in state funding proposed for nursing homes is the administration's "last best offer" in an effort to avoid strikes at dozens of nursing homes across Connecticut, but the union representing the workers said it falls short of addressing "poverty wages."
The union, District 1199 New England, SEIU, contends the 4.5% annual wage increase for the next two years would not be enough to establish a $20 per hour minimum for unionized certified nursing assistants, something that's needed to attract more workers to the field.
"We are facing a critical situation in the nursing home industry with workers trapped in poverty. Operators cannot find enough job applicants to hire at current industry wages, " said Rob Baril, the union president, in a statement. He said current staff are facing "ruthless workloads'' given staffing shortages and the residents are receiving less direct care.
Paul Mounds, the Democratic governor's chief of staff, told reporters during an evening news conference that the administration will not be offering more money. He said Lamont's proposal would provide for the "highest wage increase ever seen for these frontline workers." He said Lamont was urging union leaders and representatives of the nursing homes to return to the negotiating table and avoid a strike, which would be "a devastating and unnecessary disruption of care for our nursing home residents."
According to the union, about 4,000 workers at 39 nursing homes are still making preparations for a strike. The first group of 3,400 staffers is scheduled to walk out at 6 a.m. on Friday at 33 facilities. Strike notices have also been sent to six additional homes, where about 600 workers could walk out on May 28 at 6 a.m.
Dr. Deidre Gifford, acting Department of Public Health Commissioner, said her agency is currently reviewing strike plans submitted by the affected homes to make sure there will be adequate staff on hand to care for the residents. She said DPH has been reaching out the staffing agencies being hired by the homes to make sure they have enough employees to cover the needs.
"It's been challenging in some cases for these facilities to find replacement staff. And we won't approve those plans until they give us the documentation," said Gifford, adding that she is confident, however, there will be enough replacement staff if a strike happens.
Gifford said DPH, as well as members of the Connecticut National Guard, will be monitoring the situation in nursing home if the workers walk out.