By Gina Macris
Workers at Seven Hills Rhode Island who care for about 250 adults with developmental disabilities will receive an across-the-board raise of 25 cents an hour retroactive to last June 23, the expiration date of their previous labor agreement. The contract contains a wage re-opener in its second and final year.
The mediated settlement was ratified last month by some 200 members of the United Nurses and Allied Professionals (UNAP), according to Jeanne Jose, a union business representative. Any increase that comes from Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 would be over and above the raises negotiated in mediation, Jose said.
In January, the union membership authorized its executive committee to call a strike, if necessary, after labor-management talks had collapsed the previous month.
According to Jose, the union had originally sought a 5 percent wage increase across the board. That percentage works out to about 55 cents an hour for those who had been making $10.94 an hour – more than half the membership. By comparison, the minimum wage in Rhode Island is currently $10.50 an hour.
Jose said 39 per-diem employees, who are on call but receive no benefits, were paid $12.36 an hour under the terms of the previous contract. Jose said 12 behavioral assistants, who must have bachelor’s degrees, made $15.36 an hour.
Talks fell apart in December when management offered a choice of an across-the-board increase of 13 cents an hour, or a 25-cent increase for those making $10.94 an hour and no raise for higher-paid union members.
Jose said “people were happy” with the wage settlement, taking into account Rhode Island’s chronic underfunding of developmental disability services, which has resulted in low wages and high turnover.
UNAP is one of several labor organizations affiliated with the AFL-CIO which support companion bills which have been introduced in the General Assembly to create a $15-hour minimum wage for direct care workers.
In a statement, Cliff R. Cabral, vice-president of Seven Hills Rhode Island, said, “We are pleased that we were able to come to a resolution and will continue to advocate on behalf of those who provide crucial supports to adults with developmental disabilities.”
In addition to the raises, Jose said, the union won a five-cent increase in mileage reimbursement for employees who must use their personal vehicles on the job – from 40 cents to 45 cents an hour – and other changes in contract language.
According to Jose, new language ensures that:
Employees will receive adequate training or re-training before they are tested or re-tested on protocols for dispensing medication to clients.
Management will provide adequate staffing to ensure the health and safety of workers and clients on an as-needed basis; for example, when two people are needed, instead of one, to help a heavy person using a wheelchair to get in and out of a car for a visit to the doctor’s.
Seven Hills, based in Woonsocket, is a private agency that provides residential and day services for adults with developmental disabilities in northern Rhode Island.