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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    Union agrees on contract with one group home agency, but strike notices are active at others

    The New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, SEIU reached an agreement with one group home agency but has active strike notices with three others, the union announced Wednesday.

    District 1199 had delivered strike notices to Network Inc. and Whole Life Inc. last week, effective Oct. 5 at 6 a.m., but said Wednesday it settled on a new contract with Network, canceling the strike notification for more than 300 union members at the agency. The Oct. 5 deadline is still in place for Whole Life.

    The union also announced it has delivered strike notices to Sunrise Northeast and Alternative Services, effective Oct. 12 at 6 a.m., which respectively affect 160 and 100 workers. These four agencies are nonprofits that serve developmentally disabled people.

    District 1199 said in a news release that the agreement with Network raises the current minimum wage of $14.75 to $17.25 by next July, increases the employer's pension contribution to 9.5%, and "includes significant reductions in health care costs."

    The contract is retroactive to this past July and expires in March 2023, and more experienced workers get up to a 5% pay increase for 2021. Union President Rob Baril said based on seniority, Network will now cover between 70% and 90% of the employee health insurance premium share.

    "The economic and racial justice advancements negotiated in this contract are historic in the Medicaid group homes sector," Baril said in the release. "Union members and the administration at Network Inc. should be proud of our achievements today."

    Baril said the State of Connecticut "did its job" by securing $184 million for group home workers in June to pay for raises and reduce health insurance costs.

    Baril said District 1199 represents close to 3,000 workers across about 20 agencies in the group home industry, and he hopes the "excellent, excellent agreement with Network Incorporated" becomes a template for other agencies. The union said more strike votes are underway at other group home agencies.

    Asked about the status of negotiations with Whole Life Inc., which is based in New London, Baril said, "We are hopeful we can get a settlement. I am not going to talk about any of the details of where we are in negotiations."

    Emails sent to Network, Whole Life, Sunrise and Alternative Services on Wednesday afternoon were unanswered as of press time.

    "Health insurance really should be, we believe, a human right," Baril said. "Unfortunately, in our society, it is a privilege of folks who have the ability to afford it."

    Baril said it's an expectation of workers in the industry that they will have to work two, three or four jobs to pay the bills. Network employee Jennifer Brown said in a Zoom call that she is grateful for this victory, but she also works for Sunrise.

    "We work hard. We work through storms, we worked through the pandemic. We're still working," she said. "There's a lot of demands on us."

    Evelyn Addy, a caregiver working for Network, said she is exhausted at the end of the week, always working two jobs and running around and taking extra hours, and not having time for her kids.

    "We work so hard. We give medication, we cook, we do everything, because they are like our family," Eddy said. "We really love what we are doing. We put in 100%, but we don't get anything back. We are underpaid. My pay, my pay, is under $17, and I've worked for 15 years."

    e.moser@theday.com

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