Oak Hill School in Hartford, the largest nonprofit agency serving the developmentally disabled.
The Oak Hill School in Hartford operates about 70 group homes for the disabled across Connecticut.

This story was updated at 12:15 a.m.

Connecticut’s largest health care workers’ union and Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration reached a tentative deal late Thursday on state funding for group homes for the developmentally disabled, averting a planned strike Friday involving about 2,000 caregivers.

SEIU District 1199 New England announced shortly after 11:30 p.m. that it had pulled its strike notices — about four hours after some group home operators had begun transferring clients to stay temporarily at nursing homes or to live with their families.

The Hartford-based Oak Hill School, Connecticut’s largest nonprofit social service agency with 70 group homes around the state for residents with developmental and intellectual disabilities, had moved 77 clients to nursing homes by 7:45 p.m. and the count was expected to reach about 150 later in the evening, according to its President and CEO Barry Simon.

Full details of the tentative agreement weren’t available late Thursday night, but a union spokesman said more than $180 million in state funds would be invested in the group homes over the next two years.

Shortly before 7:30 a.m. Friday morning, the governor’s office released the following statement in his name:

“This is an important agreement which represents my administration’s commitment to respecting the collective bargaining and negotiation process, while also ensuring those in the care of these homes are receiving the services they need. This agreement is a positive step forward for the workers as they will receive pay increases and more support. I thank SEIU and the industry leaders for working collaboratively with our administration to reach this agreement.”

Citing low wages, poor benefits and inadequate working conditions, the union warned in early May that it was planning to strike against six nonprofit agencies that collectively operate more than 200 group home sites statewide.

Connecticut relies on the private, nonprofit sector to deliver the bulk of state-sponsored social services. The industry has been urging governors and legislators for years to reverse more than a decade of under-funding.

And while the General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee has crafted a comprehensive, seven-year plan to close that gap, the next two-year state budget — which begins July 1 — remains in political limbo.

Lamont and leaders of the legislature’s Democratic majority continue to negotiate, but as of Thursday both the governor and top lawmakers said talks had stalled over a few key issues.

The Hartford-based Oak Hill School, which operates more than 70 group homes across Connecticut, had begun transferring clients to nursing homes Thursday evening.

Barry Simon, president and CEO of Oak Hill, thanked Lamont and the union for averting a strike.

“This will allow us to facilitate the return of our participants to their homes and our students to their classrooms,” Simon said, adding the funding Lamont pledged to support “will allow us to bargain in good faith and to settle the contract with our employees.”

The other nonprofits at risk of a strike prior to Thursday night’s deal were: Journey Found Inc. of Manchester; Mosaic in Cromwell; Whole Life Inc. of New London;  Sunrise Northeast of Hartford; and Network Inc. of Andover.

Simon had warned state officials that the client relocations a strike would force would be highly stressful among the group home population.

Many of these residents are very limited in their ability to communicate and rely on highly skilled staff who’ve become familiar over time with their clients’ needs, he said.

“There’s a lot of emotional costs” in relocating disabled clients, Simon added. “There’s a lot of wasted time and effort.”

Thursday’s deal marked the second time in less than a month that the Lamont administration reached a last-minute agreement with District 1199 to avert a work stoppage.

Plans for a May 14 strike involving aides at 26 nursing homes were scrapped on May 13 after the governor agreed the state would finance a package that would elevate pay to $20 per hour in most facilities by 2024.

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Keith M. PhaneufState Budget Reporter

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.