It apparently took the threat of a major strike, but the Connecticut Legislature passed a bill and the Connecticut governor signed it earlier this year to raise the minimum wage of direct-care workers in that state’s Department of Developmental Services system to $14.75 an hour, starting January 1.
A similar effort fell short last year in Massachusetts when a budget amendment to raise direct-care wages to $15 was killed in a budget conference committee in the Massachusetts Legislature.
While Governor Charlie Baker signed separate legislation in June to raise the minimum wage across the board in Massachusetts to $15, that wage level won’t actually be reached until 2023. The minimum wage will rise to only $12 next year, whereas it will be close to $15 in Connecticut for human services workers as of January 1.
It seems that even though legislators and the administration of Governor Dannel Malloy in Connecticut are equally as tolerant of runaway privatization as they are here in Massachusetts, the Connecticut Legislature and governor have shown a greater recognition that increased privatization has resulted in low wages for direct care human service workers, and that low wages have had a negative impact on services.
In May, after the Connecticut Senate voted overwhelmingly in favor of setting the minimum direct-care wage at $14.75, Malloy made a statement that we have yet to hear Governor Baker make:
“For far too long,” Malloy said, “the people who provide care to our most vulnerable neighbors have been underpaid for their critical work.”
In fairness to Baker, Malloy made that statement only after 2,400 employees of nine corporate provider agencies in Connecticut voted in April to authorize a strike that was set to begin in early May. The workers in Connecticut are represented by the SEIU 1199 New England union.
Clearly hoping to avert that strike, the Malloy administration proposed raising the minimum wage for human services workers to $14.75 an hour and providing a five-percent raise for workers earning more than $14.75 an hour effective January 1.
The Malloy administration’s proposal, which was endorsed by the SEIU union and ultimately signed into law, applies to 19,000 union and non-union caregivers that staff some 170 group homes and other nonprofit agencies that receive Medicaid funding in Connecticut, according to The Connecticut Mirror.
As Connecticut Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney noted:
The work (those caregivers) do is among the most important in our state in terms of humanity. If we are to consider ourselves a humane and caring society, at long last we should begin at least to recognize the value of that work.
In Massachusetts, SEIU Local 509 helped organize a five-day strike for a living wage in July at CLASS, Inc., a DDS-funded day program provider based in Lawrence. The workers there were getting paid about $13 an hour and wanted a $1 increase. The company was offering an increase of only 40 cents.
The president of CLASS, meanwhile, was making about $187,500 a year, according to the state’s online UFR database.
In July, workers at CLASS, Inc. reached a settlement with management to raise the workers’ wages by 60 cents an hour. That would still leave the average worker there well below what direct-care workers will be earning in Connecticut.
The Massachusetts strike, moreover, didn’t have the impact on legislators and other policy makers here that the threat of the Connecticut strike apparently did in that state. Thus far, it isn’t apparent that there is any political will in Massachusetts to raise the minimum wage of direct-care workers to Connecticut’s level.
That is concerning because five years is a long time to wait for the minimum wage for direct-care workers to reach $15. Due to inflation alone, that $15 will be worth less to Massachusetts workers in 2023 than it would be if they were to receive it starting this January.