Yamilkys Ramirez, Jacqueline Ulloa, Dismania Rodriguez and Maria Reyes with CSEA SEIU Local 2001 chant, "Listen, Listen we are on the fight, as Care 4 Kids Providers and union members call for a fair contract outside the Governor's Mansion in Hartford. Joe Amon | Connecticut Public

Child care providers gathered outside the Connecticut governor’s mansion Tuesday morning demanding worker benefits.

The Connecticut Chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) organized the event. Close to 100 members chanted and waved signs. They said they provide more than day care services to thousands of children across the state, including care for children with physical and intellectual disabilities.

Union leaders say they represent close to 4,000 Care 4 Kids child care and home care providers, and they’ve been advocating for 10 years for health care and retirement benefits for those workers. Connecticut’s Care 4 Kids program reimburses child care providers for services, but it does not provide direct worker benefits.

Advocates said they earn the equivalent of $8.50 an hour, below the minimum wage in Connecticut, and roughly 2,600 providers left the field between 2019 and 2021.

Child care provider Jennifer Brown said it’s time the state treats workers with respect.

Care4Kids Protest
Jennifer Brown with SEIU 1199 brings the fire during her speech in support of Care 4 Kids providers and union Members calling for a fair contract during a protest at the Governor’s Mansion in Hartford. Joe Amon | Connecticut Public

“Home care providers and child care providers deserve better support — child care providers with contracts, with livable wages, health insurance and retirement for all,” Brown said.

Union members argue that the reimbursement rate for Care 4 Kids services is too low for providers to afford health insurance.

SEIU manager and organizer Eva Bermudez said the union has been having recurring conversations with Gov. Ned Lamont, but workers still do not have health care. Union leaders preferred not to talk about details of the conversations as they’re beginning negotiations.

Organizers held this rally on the 55th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination to highlight issues of economic and racial justice. They said roughly seven in 10 child care providers with Care 4 Kids are people of color, including significant representation of Latin Americans and Black women, as well as Brazilians, people of Creole descent and those with Middle Eastern heritage.

Pastor Rodney Wade of Long Hill Bible Church said it’s time to stop begging for the “fair share of the pie.”

Care4Kids Protest
Pastor Rodney Wade of Long Hill Bible Church and a member of Recovery for All speaks during the closing as the Care 4 Kids providers and union members call for a fair contract during a protest at the governor’s mansion in Hartford. Joe Amon | Connecticut Public

“It’s not enough to simply have access because access has not given us power. But every day, in every way, we [must be] willing to stand up and lean our voices together,” Rodney said. “Because the reality is that we are all in the same fight.”

“We have reached out to the governor on multiple occasions,” Bermudez said. “He has every authority to give us the ability for health care, to provide child care providers with health care opportunities, and that hasn’t happened as of now.”

Gov. Ned Lamont signed an executive order in March forming a commission to help design the future of child care in Connecticut. The commission includes employers, families and child care providers.

This story was originally published April 4, 2023, by Connecticut Public.