(Updated 8:45 a.m.) More than 600 group home workers are prepared to strike on Oct. 5 unless contract negotiations with the agencies that run the homes move forward, union officials said.
The group homes and day programs for individuals with disabilities run by Whole Life, Inc. and Network Inc. will receive notice of an intention to strike today, according to New England Health Care Employees Union SEIU District 1199 President Rob Baril.
The union members say they will strike to fight for increased wages and benefits promised by the state in June. The state set aside $184 million for wage increases for nursing home and group home workers.
But the Oct. 5 strike is not against the state, Baril and others said. It’s against the owners of the group homes who have refused to negotiate the increased funding into their contracts.
“The funding is there,” Jesse Martin, union vice president for nursing homes, said. “I have sat in on negotiations and there has not been a single negotiation since July.”
The group homes avoided a strike planned for early June when the state came to the table to offer money for wage increases, health care and a path to retirement. These workers care for the intellectually disabled, including in some cases feeding and bathing them on a daily basis.
Although the money is available, the contracts with the various owners of the group homes must be negotiated and approved before workers can get raises, union officials said.
The contract with Whole Life, Inc. expired in 2019 while the contract with Network Inc. expired in March, officials said.
Susan Pearson, executive director Network Inc., said they are grateful for what the governor and legislature have done.
She said the funding for the wage increases has come through, but the funding for the pensions has not been allocated yet. She said they are expected to have their pension information to the state by Oct. 6.
“A strike would be catastrophic,” Pearson said.
She said these employees put their lives on the line every day and they should be compensated for the tireless work they do taking care of these vulnerable and fragile individuals.
Officials with Whole Life, Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent after business hours.
The majority of staff at group homes make between $14 and $15 an hour while paying up to $500 a month for health insurance, workers said.
“I’d love to see corporate live off of $14.75 an hour,” Alisa Taylor, who is employed by Whole Life, said.
Taylor said staff members are sometimes required to stay at the home and care for the patients for several days in a row since there is a staffing shortage. Workers often don’t get to sleep or take care of themselves, she said.
“We deserve a fair contract,” Taylor said. “We’re not in this to get rich.”
It is the third time in five months that union officials have sent strike notices to group homes.
The union issued strike notifications in June for Oak Hill, Network Inc., Whole Life, Mosaic, Journey Found and Sunrise — agencies that run 200 group homes throughout the state — after withdrawing the notices in May.
The union is seeking a pathway to $20 an hour for employees who provide direct care to group home occupants and $30 an hour for licensed practical nurses who provide support to group homes.
Union members also want more affordable health care, retirement benefits, better staffing and more respect for the job they do, union officials said.
More than 3,400 workers from the same union were threatening to strike at 33 nursing homes on May 14 but all of the work stoppages were averted as state officials offered more money to workers and nursing home owners.
Most of the nursing homes have come to an agreement with the state and those deals are in various stages of ratification by members, said Pedro Zayas, communications director for the union.
But the owners of several group home chains have yet to come to the table, union officials said.
“The funding is there,” Zayas said. “These operators don’t want to come to the table to apply for it.”