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Strike showdown: Nursing homes reject state’s ‘best and final offer’ as Lamont readies National Guard

The threatened strike by some 4,000 nursing home workers statewide appears to be on course to begin on Friday.

After the governor’s administration made what it called its “best and final offer” to the union representing those workers, its president dismissed it as insufficient.

Gov. Ned Lamont has put the Connecticut National Guard on alert that it may need to be deployed in order to retain order outside of the facilities.

“I authorize you to immediately call up a sufficient force of members of the armed forces of the state to support as needed the Department of Public Health in protecting the public health and safety in response to any potential work stoppage or strike of workers at long-term care facilities or other congregate settings in the state beginning on or about May 14, 2021,” Lamont wrote to the Guard.

The administration has proposed a $280 million, two-year package to the union, which the governor’s chief of staff Paul Mounds characterized as “the best and final offer proposal which would be presented” at a press conference last night.

“This is a very fair, aggressive and honest offer that has been put forth by the governor,” Mounds said.

The proposal includes $150 million to pay for 4.5% raises for all nursing home workers; an additional $20 million for workers’ retirement benefits; $12.5 million for hazardous pay bonuses; $13.5 million for increased training and staff development; and a temporary 10% increase in the facilities’ Medicaid rates, which the administration said would come to $86 million between July and next March.

But SEIU District 1199 New England, which represents the workers, said the proposal failed to “lift nursing home workers out of poverty and improve staffing numbers for direct care services.”

“We are facing a critical situation in the nursing home industry with workers trapped in poverty,” union president Rob Baril said in a statement. “Operators cannot find enough job applicants to hire at current industry wages. The reduced staffing teams of existing nurses, assistants, and other supports bear the brunt of ruthless workloads, and vulnerable patients and residents get less time of direct care.”

SEIU District 1199 maintains that the 4.5% wage increase would not be sufficient to establish a $20 per hour minimum in the union contracts for certified nursing assistants, while for those working in housekeeping, dietary and laundry positions would still end up making less than the state’s minimum wage.

“The governor’s proposal would not provide the funding needed to right the wrongs of Covid-19 and to correct decades of chronic devaluation of the nursing home labor sector, whose workers are majority Black, Brown, and White working-class women,” Baril said. “Workers have suffered untold trauma in the last year, with thousands of resident deaths and nearly two dozen worker fatalities in our union.”

Turning his attention to Lamont and his administration’s calling on the National Guard, Basil said: “We call on him and his team to put those resources to better use by funding the services provided by nursing home workers.

“We think it is appalling that the governor is protecting the Covid-19 bounties of the wealthiest individuals in the wealthiest state in the country rather than raising standards to livable wages, affordable health care and retirement security for long-term workers,” he added.

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