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    Friday, December 02, 2022

    Union reaches agreement with another group home agency, strike averted

    SEIU District 1199, the New England Health Care Employees Union, settled on a new contract Friday night with New London-based group-home operator Whole Life Inc., pending ratification from members, the union announced Monday.

    The union withdrew the strike notice for Whole Life, which had been scheduled for 6 a.m. Tuesday. Spokesperson Pedro Zayas said he isn't sure when members are voting on the agreement but expects ratification because the negotiations were open, with members present on Zoom.

    District 1199 said the agreement is retroactive to July 31, 2021, and is effective through March 2023. The minimum wage for employees will go up to $17.25 per hour in 2022, and other raises range from 7% to 9% over two years. Up to 90% of insurance premiums will be covered, with the most senior employees paying $20 biweekly.

    Zayas said when Whole Life requires workers to move to a house for which they aren't regularly scheduled, workers will get a $1 per hour differential, $2 if they're given less than 24 hours' notice of the change.

    The pension contribution is increasing to 9.5%, and workers get Juneteenth as a new paid holiday.

    District 1199 said Whole Life operates more than 39 locations across the state, with more than 300 workers in the Eastern Connecticut, Central Connecticut and Bridgeport areas.

    According to the Department of Developmental Services' profile of Whole Life, last updated in January, the agency serves Bridgeport, Brooklyn, Columbia, Coventry, Hebron, Killingly, Lebanon, Ledyard, Monroe, Norwich, Plainville, Preston, Shelton, Stonington, Stratford, Trumbull, Waterford, Willington and Windham.

    "This is one more example of what we can win when we fight together for racial and economic justice," said Sherry Delorme of Windham, a caregiver with 19 years of experience at Whole Life. "I can't believe how long workers have been able to survive without affordable health insurance. This contract is going to make a huge difference in workers' lives."

    Whole Life did not immediately respond to an email Monday afternoon seeking comment.

    Bob Santos of Danielson, an assistant manager who has been at Whole Life for three years, said workers "were ready to strike if necessary for the dignity we deserve. Our victory will pave a path for all group home workers to have their work valued like it should be."

    District 1199 has been negotiating with other agencies that run group homes serving developmentally disabled people. The union announced last Wednesday that it reached an agreement with Network Inc., but that it had also delivered strike notices to Sunrise Northeast and Alternative Services, effective Oct. 12 at 6 a.m.

    Those strike notices remained active Monday, and the union said more strike votes are underway at other group home agencies. The threats of strikes have come despite the state in June authorizing $184 million for wage and benefit increases for group home workers.

    e.moser@theday.com

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