All sides hail deal that averted group home strike, even though residents had to move

Photo of Julia Bergman

A strike of 2,100 group home workers, scheduled for 6 a.m. Friday, was called off late Thursday just before midnight as the union agreed to a 2-year deal with significant pay increases.

But the eleventh-hour deal came too late for the 200 group homes to avoid having to relocate hundreds of intellectually disabled residents.

In a statement issued Friday morning, Gov. Ned Lamont said the tenative agreement, which still has to be ratified by union members, “is a positive step forward for the workers as they will receive pay increases and more support.”

The $184-million, two-year state funding package will lead to significant wage increases and improved benefits for workers, the majority of whom are Black and Latina women, SEIU District 1199 New England, the state’s largest health care workers union, said in a press release early Friday morning.

“We believe this additional funding will resolve the open contracts. We have made substantial progress toward our goals for a $20 minimum wage, with major progress on retirement and other benefits,” said Rob Baril, the union’s president.

All day Thursday, group home operators had changed plans on the fly, pushing back deadlines to relocate residents until the last possible minute, with vehicles ready and destinations set.

Barry Simon, the chief executive officer of Oak Hill, a nonprofit which operates 70 of the affected homes, said that about 150 residents were moved to nursing homes Thursday night and it could take between 24 and 48 hours for the nursing homes to discharge them back to Oak Hill’s care.

In addition to their return, the agreement allows Oak Hill to “bargain in good faith to settle the contract with our employees,” Simon said.

Group home operators had hoped to avoid the relocations, as they knew they would be traumatic for their clients, who rely on relationships with staff who care for them and being in a familiar environment.

“Once I pull this trigger, bad things will happen,” Simon said Thursday. “This is not going to be good for our participants and that’s what I worry about the most.”

This is the second major funding agreement in a month for long-term care workers in the state who, after risking sickness and death during the pandemic, have demanded better pay and benefits.

The group home deal comes on heels of similar $267 million agreement brokered last month for nursing homes. Although the companies running the homes are private, the state negotiated as the main payer because Medicaid is the chief source of money for the homes.

Strike notices were withdrawn for all the group home operators including Oak Hill, Whole Life, Sunrise, Network, Mosaic and Journey Found

julia.bergman@hearstmediact.com