DDS group home privatization effort slows down — for now

Lindsay Mathews, a parent of a DDS client displaced from a state-run group home in Hamden, joined Thursdays rally.

Keith Phaneuf / CTMirror

Lindsay Mathews, a parent of a DDS client displaced from a state-run group home in Hamden, joined a rally against privatization in Octoner.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plans to privatize 40 group homes and lay off nearly 500 Department on Developmental Services employees next year — as well as union efforts to block those actions — have stalled temporarily, but have not gone away.

Spokespeople for the administration and two state employee unions confirmed all parties are talking and have delayed a Hartford Superior Court hearing planned for this week, but released few other details.

“While DDS continues to pursue all options to best serve clients, the parties do not believe there is a need to go forward with court proceedings at this time,” said Chris McClure, spokesman for the governor’s budget office.

He added that privatization plans “have not been finalized, therefore the hearing would be premature.”

“In light of the uncertainty around DDS’ plans, the injunction hearing is currently on hold,” SEIU 1199 New England spokeswoman Jennifer Schneider said. “We have been assured we will be able to return the matter to the court’s calendar for a hearing if necessary.”

Ben Phillips, spokesman for CSEA-SEIU Local 2001 also confirmed that the injunction hearing temporarily is on hold.

The administration unveiled plans back on Aug. 16 to privatize 40 state-run group homes and a host of services for the intellectually disabled and to eliminate the need for 605 state jobs. This would save Connecticut almost $70 million annually by the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Those changes were planned to comply with a major reorganization and savings initiative the governor and the General Assembly ordered in May when they adopted the current state budget.

The administration, which already had laid off 113 DDS employees before the August announcement, said it would eliminate another 492 workers in two stages, most happening after Jan. 1.

The workers include staff at state-run group homes and institutions, and those who provide job support, education, physical and speech therapy, health care and other services to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The unions took two counter-measures in October, filing a lawsuit in Hartford Superior Court and a complaint with the state Board of Labor Relations.

The DDS employees in SEIU and CSEA have been working under a contract that expired on June 30. That deal prohibited the state from laying off workers if the services they performed were being turned over to the private sector. And union leaders argued that restriction remains in force, at least until new contract language regarding privatization has been negotiated.

The unions and the state had been scheduled to go to court this week. The union has asked for a temporary injunction to stop DDS from laying off union members or contracting out their work until after the labor board complaint is resolved.

Though the administration hasn’t offered many details on its privatization efforts, Connecticut’s private, nonprofit social services community has been critical of the compensation level offered in a recent state invitation to bid on group home management.

“It becomes difficult to bid on something you know doesn’t cover your costs,” said Barry Simon, president and CEO of Hartford-based Oak Hill, the largest nonprofit social services provider in Connecticut.

Simon, whose nonprofit employs more than a thousand unionized, private-sector workers, said the state’s compensation level wouldn’t have allowed for average pay of $15 per hour — a minimum threshold that many nonprofits and labor unions have said is necessary to provide a “livable wage.”