Connecticut caregivers strike attracts national support to end poverty wages
Strikers picket daily outside the State Capitol. | SEIU 1199 NE

HARTFORD, CT – Striking group home and day program caregivers marked week two of their strike against poverty with a rally at Emanuel Lutheran Church, followed by a march to the State Capitol, as Nobel prize winning economist Paul Stiglitz issued a statement of support indicating that the strike is gaining national attention.

The members of SEIU 1199 NE rallied with allies for a moral budget that ends poverty for long-term care workers and expands lifesaving services.  A few days earlier 57 caregivers and supporters staged a civil disobedience in the street outside the Capitol to get the urgency of their message across.

“We’ve started a movement for racial and economic justice for long-term care workers, and expanding services to save lives,” said president Rob Baril.

“Why are we even here? Why do we have to do this? Why are we fighting for group home workers, and nursing home workers, and home care workers?” he asked.  “We’re fighting to make sure that publicly funded workers with our tax dollars are provided with a wage that keeps people from being evicted, from living in their cars, from carrying thousands of dollars in medical debt.”

Over 1,700 group home and day program caregivers began striking on Wednesday, May 24, at six agencies that provide services for 1,500 individuals with disabilities: Oak Hill, Mosaic, Whole Life, Network, Caring Community, and Alternative Services, Inc. These long-term caregivers are demanding a pathway to $25 per hour minimum wage, affordable healthcare, and funding for retirement after decades of service.

“Over the past two weeks day program and group home workers have made the courageous move of going on strike against the State of Connecticut. For folks who don’t know what we do, we provide care and services for people who cannot care for themselves. And we make sure that the people we serve can live their life with dignity,” said Alana Davis, a striking caregiver at Whole Life.

“Can’t eat until we show up”

“Imagine what it is to be a person that can’t eat until we show up to feed them. Imagine what it is to have to go to the bathroom, or to take a shower, or brush your teeth, until somebody shows up to do it. Well, we are that somebody. And we’ve shown up. And we’ve been showing up for years. Governor Lamont: it’s time for you to show up for us,” challenged Davis.

“Our group home and day program workers deserve a living wage. A wage that can sustain them and their families,” said Connecticut AFL-CIO President Ed Hawthorne. “To ignore the suffering that is plain for the eye to see on the front lawn of the Capitol and in this church is tone-deaf and frankly appalling.”

Hawthorne speculated that “if the decision-makers in the Capitol were forced to live in their cars, choose which bills can be paid each month, and struggle with the decision whether to take a sick child to the doctor because of its insurmountable cost, then we would not be having this conversation.”

“Even when I work full-time hours, I get paid part-time wages. That’s not justice. We’ve been called heroes, but they don’t treat us like heroes,” said Tania Rodríguez, a home care worker provider and group home worker that currently holds three jobs to make ends meet.

“Do you think I don’t deserve $25 an hour for my work? I’m working for $18.25, and we have little to no benefits to speak of. The only thing we’re asking for is for our work to be honored and paid fairly,” she said.

A civil disobedience action included 57 strikers and supporters in the street outside the State Capitol. | SEIU 1199 NE

Meanwhile, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Columbia Business School Professor and Nobel Prize Economics, issued a statement in support of SEIU 1199NE’s strike against poverty.  His message is directed to Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont, but clearly gives a message to Governors in all states, Stiglitz said.

“No publicly funded employee caring for others and working full time should be dependent on our welfare system. States must set standards for private employers that, when followed, relieve the pressure on welfare programs that merely prolong poverty. Raising wages for low-wage workers creates immediate savings in state budgets because they will no longer need to rely so heavily on public programs. It also stimulates the economy because we know middle-class workers will spend their raises as consumers of goods and services in our communities. Public dollars should be used to lift working people out of poverty, not keep them in poverty whether they are working on behalf of for-profit or nonprofit organizations.

“The costs of housing, healthcare, and childcare have increased rapidly, but wages for Black, Brown and white working-class caregivers have remained stagnant. Governor Ned Lamont needs to acknowledge that austerity policies have left the government ill-equipped to address the needs of our most vulnerable individuals. Failing to pay living wages to the workers who provide long-term care and essential services has weakened the economy as a whole.

“A healthy economy is one in which everyone has the economic security, support, and protection they need. A strong economy is one in which everyone prospers. It’s one built on the solid foundation of smart investments, and shared prosperity in recognition that all labor has dignity.”

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Joelle Fishman
Joelle Fishman

Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is an active member of many local economic rights and social justice organizations. As chair of the national CPUSA Political Action Commission, she plays an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights, and peace. Joelle Fishman preside el Partido Comunista de Connecticut USA. Es miembro activo de muchas organizaciones locales de derechos económicos y justicia social. Como presidenta de la Comisión Nacional de Acción Política del CPUSA, desempeña un papel activo en la amplia alianza laboral y popular y continúa movilizándose por la atención médica, los derechos de los trabajadores y la paz.