Strikers Say Pay Between Units Not Equal; Fidelity House CRC Makes ‘Strong Final Offer’

Richard Sweeney, employment specialist; Lorelei Kluever and Mercy Frank, SEIU Local 509 internal organizers; and Danielle Sweeney, skills instructor. (WHAV News photograph.)

Striking workers outside of the former Career Resources Corporation offices in Ward Hill say they want a “fair, equal and living wage.”

Picketing SEIU Local 509 employees told WHAV Tuesday that wage disparities became clear following CRC’s merger with Lawrence’s Fidelity House this year. Employment Specialist Richard Sweeney explains employees of the former CRC group homes received wage increases after the merger, but there were no raises for employees at Haverhill’s Parkridge Road day and employment programs.

“I work at Parkridge and we want our wages brought up to what the group homes are making,” Sweeney says.

A nine-year employee, Sweeney says, workers at CRC group homes received increases because their counterparts at Fidelity House were already making more. He knows because his wife, Danielle, is a skills instructor at a former CRC group home.

“We feel we should be paid above minimum wage. We’re caring for individuals. We’re taking them out on job sites. We’re getting them in the community, and I think we should be paid more than minimum wage—not that everyone is making minimum wage, but no one in this location should be making minimum wage or even 50 cents above minimum wage,” he says.

About 300 employees walked out Tuesday. Most workers picketed at the South Union Street, Lawrence, offices since Fidelity House CRC elected to close the day program during Tuesday’s picket. Fidelity House CRC CEO Bradley Howell said in a statement, group home programs will be “staffed by those employees who choose not to participate in the strike, management personnel and by temporary staff.”

Howell says he attempted to avert the strike by coming to Monday’s seventh negotiating meeting with, what he calls, “a strong final offer.” He explains the offer includes a 2.5% wage increase for most employees in year one and a 2.5% increase for all bargaining unit employees in the second year. He adds, he proposed, for the first year, “market rate increases for many positions within day services, averaging 10% and in some cases as high as 20%, and one-time bonuses for relief staff…”

Two weeks ago, union officials complained, management offered no increases for 256 employees and only a 50-cent increase for day program workers. The union said that amounts to a starting wage of $13.97 per hour. The Commonwealth’s minimum wage is currently $12 per hour and will increase to $12.75 in January.

Howell says the breakdown in talks is “obviously a disappointing result.” He adds, “The cost associated with the SEIU’s preferred proposal goes far beyond what our current financial position can reasonably support.”

Both sides have been in negotiations since June.

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