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Mental healthcare employees continue strike at Sound Community Services

Contract negotiations are expected to resume on Wednesday following the three-day strike.

NEW LONDON, Conn. — Union mental healthcare employees at Sound Community Services in New London returned to the picket line Monday for day two of a three-day strike.

Employees on strike at the behavioral health and substance abuse help center are calling for higher pay, access to benefits and improved staffing conditions.

“It got to this point because we haven’t received any cost of living increases or raises in at least four years, and we don’t have affordable health care or a decent pension program,” said Donavon Powell, an employee at Sound Community Services who is striking.

RELATED: Sound Community Services CEO responds to mental health workers strike over pay

The New England Health Care Employees Union Local 1199 said some providers at the center make about $15 an hour and it’s hard to make ends meet.

“The persons that we serve can go work at a grocery store and make two dollars an hour more than we do. That’s hard to watch,” said Powell.

Sound Community Services CEO Gino DeMaio said their budget comes down to state funding.

“If I had tons of money to give them, I’d be the first one to do it, but I think the problem is that based on the percentage that the state gave to non-profit organizations, it was barely four percent,” said DeMaio.

DeMaio added they are trying to negotiate and there is an offer on the table.

“It was about a 1.76 or 1.78 per hour per employee, and we were offering a thousand dollars additional to contribution for health insurance and we did talk about a 401K. We’ve always wanted to start a voluntary contribution to a 401K, but they seem to be more interested in the wages,” said DeMaio.

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“What they’ve brought to the table isn’t showing that they’re trying very hard. That said, we are working actively to lobby for an additional eight percent from the state,” said Powell.

DeMaio said the center has about 135 employees total and about 75 are unionized, but some of them are not striking.

While the strike is underway, DeMaio said a contingency plan is in place to make sure all programs are still covered, with non-union managers and workers stepping in.

Mental healthcare providers are planning to rally at the Capitol Tuesday for more state funding.

In New London, contract negotiations are expected to resume on Wednesday following the three-day strike.

A separate strike deadline by union mental health workers is scheduled at Gilead Community Services in Middletown, starting on May 5th at 6:00 AM.

These limited three-day strikes by mental health workers at Sound and Gilead are separate from the indefinite nursing home strike by union workers ongoing at Windsor Health and Rehabilitation.

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Angelo Bavaro is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. He can be reached at abavaro@fox61.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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