seiu 1199
Home care workers rally outside the state Capitol Credit: Cloe Poisson for SEIU 1199NE

Union officials say they are hopeful that a state request for proposals for a new fiscal intermediary to pay home care workers will lead to people getting paid on time without a hassle – eventually. 

Over the years, the more than 7,000 members of the New England Health Care Employees Union, District 1199 who work as personal care assistants – known as home care workers – have filed thousands of grievances against Allied Community Resources, the state-contracted vendor that performs their payroll.

“The unreliable payroll system breaks the camel’s back for people who have no health insurance, no retirement, no paid sick time, and make $16.25 an hour,” said Diedre Murch, union vice president and director of home care.

People like Betsy Windgate, a 66-year-old home care worker from Naugatuck, have gone weeks without pay due to clerical errors and other issues with Allied, Murch said.

“They have been terrible,” said Windgate, who has worked as a PCA for more than 10 years. “They don’t pay on time. I have to call people to tell them I’m going to be late paying them because I didn’t get paid, but who believes that?”

The union wanted the company replaced when its contract with the state expired on June 30. Instead, the state delayed the RFP process for close to a year and extended Allied’s contract. It will remain the payroll provider – or fiscal intermediary – until December 2022. 

In the meantime, the company has been cooperating with a DSS-directed corrective action plan that focuses on bringing call center wait times within contract standards and assuring the maximum number of timesheets are paid in each time period, according to DSS spokesman David Dearborn.

The company was on track to make $775,377 from its contract with the DSS home care program in the fiscal year that ended June 30, a fraction of the $14.7 million in contracts it had with that state agency during the same timeframe.

The RFP issued last week emphasizes that payroll and payroll problems need to be addressed in a timely fashion, and that the vendor will be required to cut call-center wait times to 10 minutes or less. The contract will cover payroll services to home care workers hired by clients who receive DSS, Department of Developmental Services and Department of Aging and Disability Services funding for their care. It also involves onboarding for new home care workers. 

Currently two fiscal intermediaries pay home care workers, Allied and Sunset Shores. There have been few problems with the payroll done by Sunset Shores, union officials said. 

“Allied Community Resources is very interested in continuing to work with the State and the self-directed programs,” the company’s executive director, Don Waddell, said in an emailed statement.  “We will continue to work diligently collaborating with the State to ensure that providers receive their pay for the compassionate care they provide.” 

Meanwhile, the union is “cautiously optimistic” about the wording of the RFP, Murch said. But there are issues that the union would still like addressed, she said.

“I’m not seeing an explicit requirement for an off-cycle payroll,” Murch said. “There needs to be a regularly run midweek payroll to deal with any errors so people aren’t waiting for seven-plus days to get paid after an error.”

The RFP also does not specify consequences if the company that is hired fails to meet the standards laid out in the contract, Murch said.

At the same time, the workers, who by law cannot strike, have been calling on state officials to increase funding to DSS to provide them with better health care, a path to $20 an hour and paid time off. 

Murch said she is heartened by the fact that state officials have finally agreed to come to the table this month to discuss increasing wages, affordable health insurance, retirement and paid sick time for home care workers using American Rescue Plan Act funds.

These talks won’t come fast enough to help Windgate, who now has COVID-19 and will not be able to work for at least two weeks. The state opted to let the program that paid home workers if they contracted COVID-19 expire in September.

As a PCA, Windgate doesn’t get paid time off and she is unlikely to see a paycheck for weeks. There was a point in the past two years when she says Allied didn’t pay her for five weeks. More recently, she had a payroll problem in September that took days to straighten out, leaving her with only partial pay for that week, she said.

“It’s mostly women who do this job, mostly women of color, but nobody cares about us,” Windgate said. “We don’t matter. I can remember showing up for work when the state was shut down and I was the only car on the road. We have no retirement, no sick pay, we have nothing. Can we just get paid on time?”