A strike set for Tuesday was avoided when a second set of group home members settled a contract that included raises of up to 9% over two years for senior staff members.
More than 300 New England Health Care Employees Union members were set to strike at 39 group homes and day programs run by Whole Life, Inc. for clients with intellectual and physical disabilities. The union filed strike notices two weeks ago for Whole Life, Inc. and Network, Inc. when negotiations for better pay, affordable health care and a path to retirement for workers were at a standstill.
“Yes, we were ready to strike if necessary for the dignity we deserve,” Bob Santos, an assistant manager at Whole Life, said Monday. “Our victory will pave a path for all group home workers to have their work valued like it should be. This contract is going to make a huge difference in workers’ lives.”
The union settled with Network, Inc. last week and filed two more sets of strike notices for Sunrise Northeast and Alternative Services for a work stoppage that is slated to start on Oct. 12.
Those strikes would impact 260 union members, union officials said.
The agreement reached between Whole Life, Inc. and the union will be retroactive to July 31 with minimum wages starting at $16.50 per hour with a $17.25 per hour minimum rate by 2022, officials said. Workers at Whole Life, Inc. have been without a contract since 2019.
Under the terms of the agreement which still has to be ratified by workers, Whole Life, Inc. will pay up to 90% of health care premiums for staff and will provide 9.5% in pension contributions, union officials said. The agreement also gives senior staff 9% raises over two years, sets Juneteenth as a paid holiday and protects accrued time off for two years to prevent people from losing time due to staff shortages during the coronavirus pandemic.
The deal will include additional compensation for mandated shifts and both parties agreed to track and review disciplinary actions to address concerns of potential racial and gender discrimination, union officials said.
The terms of the contract with Network, Inc. provided similar benefits.
Union members have gone with raises for about 15 years, workers said. At Sunrise Northeast, “The cost of health insurance is twice of what they are making,” said Union President Bob Baril last week. “This is why workers have decided to strike.”
The union represents about 3,000 group home workers who are employed by 20 agencies throughout the state, Baril said. Most agencies are in contract negotiations with the union, but Baril declined to comment on which contracts were likely to settle quickly.
Group home workers threatened to strike in June but that action was averted when the state promised $184 million in Medicaid funding for increased wages and benefits. However, group home operators have been slow to negotiate raises and apply for the state funding, union officials said.
The group homes said the pension calculations are more difficult than the wage increases to implement.
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 have offered more money to workers and nursing-home owners.
“We were able to settle with nursing homes without declaring any additional strikes,” Pedro Zayas, communications director for the union, said. “We aren’t going to settle for anything less than the funding we won.”