After the Connecticut state Senate voted to increase the pay of workers who provide home care services to people with disabilities, the workers’ union called off a strike that was scheduled to begin Monday morning.
The Senate vote sends the pay raise legislation to Gov. Daniel Malloy, who said he will sign the bill.
Connecticut’s home care workers provide personal care services to people living in group homes and to people in day programs. They haven’t had a pay raise in ten years.
Low pay and the lack of raises have made it difficult to maintain essential services needed by people with disabilities
“Our clients are like family and we are willing to fight to make sure they get the proper funding they deserve,” said Kim Ackerman, a home care worker, explaining why she was ready to strike.
Connecticut home care workers like Ackerman are members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NE.
The union called for the strike after its efforts to increase funding for home care services stalled in the legislature.
The state provides funding used to pay private companies that hire workers to provide the care.
For the last ten years, the funding for these services has remained flat.
The union had been working with the governor and lawmakers to find a way to increase funding, but it took the possibility of a strike to focus lawmaker attention on this problem.
The union had originally planned to begin the strike on April 18, but a plea by Gov. Malloy led to a postponement.
When lawmakers dithered about increasing funding, the union announced that the strike would begin on May 7.
About a week before the strike was to begin, the state’s Office of Policy Management Secretary Ben Barnes proposed legislation that would raise home care workers’ pay to a minimum of $14.75 an hour effective January 1, 2019.
Barnes’ proposal included a one-time 5 percent raise for workers who already earn $14.75 an hour.
The state House of Representatives approved the proposal about a week ago, and the Senate concurred over the weekend.
The long overdue raise will provide some relief to workers and to their employers.
Before passage of the funding bill, Jennifer Schneider, a spokesperson for SEIU 1199NE, said that under funding home care services had created a crisis in the state.
“When privatized group homes and programs are shuttering and workers are forced to work 80 hours a week just to make ends meet, something has to change,” Schneider said.”
In addition to working long hours, some personal care workers have been forced to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.
The union estimates that 35 percent of its members receive some form of public assistance.
The problems faced by Connecticut’s home care workers and the people served by them are not unique.
In fact there is a crisis of care all over the US.
For instance, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that in Minnesota the number of unfilled personal home care positions has “skyrocketed” from 2,038 in 2012 to 7,766 in 2017.
As a result, some people with disabilities have been forced to live in nursing homes rather than in less restrictive settings.
The Star Tribune blames the dearth of personal care workers on the job’s low pay, which the newspaper says is on average between $12 and $13 an hour.
The $12 to $13 an hour that Minnesota personal care workers are paid is actually a well above the national average.
According to PHI, a policy and advocacy organization, the average pay for a home care provider nationally is $10.11 an hour, which adjusted for inflation is $0.10 less than it was in 2005.
Low pay means a high level of poverty for home care workers who are overwhelmingly female and people of color, continues PHI. “24 percent of home workers live in households below the federal poverty line, compared to 9 percent of all US workers.”
Low pay is driving many qualified workers away from home care work and into jobs that pay more.
Unfortunately, this exodus is coming at a time when there is a growing need for these services.
In its report on home care needs, PHI says that demographic changes in the coming years will create a greater need for home care workers.
PHI estimates that by 2024 more than 633,000 new home care jobs will be created, but low pay will mean that many of these jobs will go unfilled.
“If the home care workforce is to grow, jobs will need to be more competitive, offering
higher wages and improved working conditions,” concludes the PHI report.