The state’s largest health care workers union called on Gov. M. Jodi Rell this morning to intervene in its three-month-long strike against the Vernon-based owner of six Connecticut nursing homes.

About 100 members of New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199, picketed for an hour today outside of the governor’s residence on Prospect Street in Hartford, chanting “Governor Rell, hear our plea: help protect the elderly.”

About 375 union members have been away from their jobs at four of the six homes owned by Spectrum since April 15, and have been without a new contract since March 15, 2009.

1199 picketers

Union pickets governor’s residence. Nursing home workers urge Gov. M. Jodi Rell to intervene in their strike. (Keith Phaneuf)

Union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said Spectrum has replaced the striking workers at the four affected homes, located in Hartford, Derby, Ansonia and Winsted, and while negotiations have continued, ownership has not offered to put strikers back to work. “The meetings are pro forma,” she said. “Effectively there have not been negotiations.”

Sean Murphy, chief financial officer for Spectrum, said issued a written statement charging that the union “abandoned our patients along with good paying jobs and excellent benefits. … Today’s plea to the governor seems like a stunt rather than a real solution. We continue to negotiate with the union in good faith, but their latest demands include 20 percent wage increases along with increased contributions to the union’s health fund over a five-year period. It is our hope that the union revises its demands that this far have been out of touch with economic reality.”

Chernoff added that “if there’s anyone who could get involved, in an effective way, and help end this, it is the governor.”

About two-thirds of Connecticut’s more than 28,000 nursing home patients have their care paid for by the state and federal government through the Medicaid program.

Rell spokesman Adam Liegeot said “it would be inappropriate for the governor to intervene in a strike.”

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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