Mental health staff at Gilead Community Services and Sound Community Services finalized a new union contract that includes wage increases of up to 20% and affordable health insurance for frontline caregivers.
The new contracts, which also provide for additional employee wage increases according to longevity of service at the agency and designate Juneteenth as a new holiday, were ratified by the 80 union members at Gilead and 70 union members at Sound. The minimum wage rate is increased from $15.37 to $18.52, with additional increases for more senior staff, and a lump sum payment will be made of approximately 8% of wages received for all hours worked since July 1, 2021.
“We were fighting so we do not have to live in poverty. People talk a lot about living paycheck to paycheck, but we were all trying to survive living a paycheck behind and no health insurance to protect us,” said Case Manager Tyicha McIntear of Sound Community Services. “We fought hard for this contract, and we were ready to go on strike to get our fair share. This contract puts us ahead and on a pathway to a life of dignity as we continue our work in the critical field of mental health.”
The agreements, funded through an increase in the state budget, are a great step forward for mental health caregivers who have been fighting for years for higher standards in their industry. The vast majority of workers at both agencies are Black and Brown, and working-class white women serving communities that comprise predominantly people of color. Most of them work as counselors, recovery specialists, case managers and other direct support staff.
Workers at both agencies struggled to make ends meet even after extensive years of experience in the field and, oftentimes, holding advanced degrees. Some workers at Gilead and Sound were in danger of losing access to housing due to poverty wages.
“We stayed the course and won. When we stay united and organize, we know that we can and will accomplish great things. We also let management know through this fight that we will no longer tolerate the old bad habits,” said Recovery Support Specialist Kwan Jenkins. “We as a union at Sound feel empowered and look forward to continuing the fight for better pay, better health care and dignity in retirement because we deserve to be treated with respect.”
Aside from the Juneteenth holiday victory for racial and economic justice, the contract calls for the formation of committees seeking to improve the way the agencies can do better at managing racial, gender, economic and social justice issues and advancements.
The contract with Sound Community Services is set to expire in 2024, while Gilead Community Services expires in 2025, with allowances for union workers to reopen negotiations before the agreements’ dates of expiration.
Media Contact: Pedro Zayas, firstname.lastname@example.org, 860-830-2478
District 1199, SEIU, New England Health Care Employees Union