August 18, 2017
 
Fidelity House Human Services and Workers Avert 3-Day Strike

July 25, 2017 — A strike involving about 220 workers employed by Fidelity House Human Services, a Lawrence nonprofit that provides services to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families, was averted after the union representing the workers and the organization reached a settlement on Sunday.

The settlement is subject to a ratification vote this week by affected workers at Fidelity House Human Services. The three-day strike had been set to begin July 24.

According to a statement issued by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the "settlement is a step forward in a years-long campaign by Fidelity House workers, organized through SEIU Local 509, to address the crisis in caregiving created by low wages at the agency,".

The tentative agreement will result in a $.60/hour raise for direct care staff over the course of the one-year contract, which the union described as "a significant raise for workers at Fidelity House, Inc. who have worked and organized tirelessly to gain this win for frontline direct care workers."

A spokeswoman for the union said negotiations have been ongoing for months, with the dispute primarily revolving around salaries. According to the union, workers make between $12.77 and $13.76 an hour, according to a report in the Boston Business Journal.

Nurys Cintron, a worker at Fidelity House and leader of the contract bargaining committee. “I’m relieved that after many months and a long morning of bargaining, all of my colleagues will return to work Monday with a better contract that will hopefully pave the path for all our brothers and sisters in the human services field.”

Workers had provided management with the legally required 10-day strike notice, while continuing to try to bargain with management in the days leading up to the strike.

The approximately 220 workers who were set to strike provide residential support for the developmentally disabled in Lawrence, Methuen, North Andover, Georgetown and Haverhill.

The previous three-year agreement expired April 30. The agency said it offered staff a 3% wage increase in the first year of the contract, a 1.75% increase in the second year, and would be opening to negotiate the increase in the third year, according to the BBJ. SEIU had wanted at least a 75 cent raise in the first year alone.

“Low wages for frontline staff at Fidelity House has long been a problem, and it has resulted in extremely high turnover — which of course, negatively impacts the quality of care for the individuals the agency serves,” said Christie Stephenson, a spokeswoman for the union. “We are fighting to bring workers at Fidelity House up to a living wage given the important service they provide.”

Yvonne Allard, CEO of Fidelity House, last week said that the agency receives reimbursement from the state for services, but that the current funding level is not adequate to cover SEIU’s proposal, the BBJ reported.

“Fidelity House agrees that our employees deserve higher wages for the work that they do. Unfortunately, the rates paid to Fidelity House by the state do not support and cannot sustain the SEIU’s wage proposal,” Allard said.

Earlier this year Michael Weekes, president and CEO of the Boston-based Providers Council, a statewide association of health and human service agencies, said the state's strong economy will make it harder for social service agencies, especially smaller ones with fewer resources, to compete with the private sector to recruit and retain workers.

Founded in 1971, Fidelity House Human Services today provides a home to over 100 people in 20 community residences and dozens of apartments, as well as support services for more than 500 hundred children, adults, and their families.

For the year ending June 30, 2015, Fidelity House reported $15.8 million in revenue, of which $60,000 came from contributions and grants, and $15.4 million in expenses, according to its most recently available federal tax filing.

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