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New London mental health workers to strike over pay, staffing levels

Around 80% of the 73 union members at Sound Community Services in New London are planning to strike for three days over pay and staffing levels, the union says.

NEW LONDON, Conn. — Union members at Sound Community Services are planning a three-day strike over pay and staffing levels at the mental health clinic in New London.

Kindra Fontes-May with SEIU 1199 NE represents 73 workers at the site. She says around 80% are ready to walk starting Sunday morning.

“The reality is is that the workers at Sound have not gotten significant increases in decades,” she said. “It’s been kind of a rallying cry for the workers that there are many clients that they are serving in the community that are actually making more than them.”

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She said the majority of workers make $15.37 an hour. Tyischa Mcintear, who is a behavioral health homes case manager at Sound, says that isn’t enough to live.

“I feel like Sound is at the borderline of their staff members becoming people we serve because we can’t afford to live,” Mcintear said. “I need more money. I need a livable wage. I need affordable health insurance.”

Donavon Powell is a greeter at the clinic. In the four years he’s been with the company, he says they’ve received one raise not more than 10 cents.

“The fight we’re in now it’s about our needs. We need to survive,” he said. 

The four-year union contract is coming to an end. They would like either a one-year contract or the ability to negotiate economic benefits yearly in a longer contract. Fontes-May says they don’t want to be locked in a contract at a pay rate less than what the workers deserve.

Negotiations are set to take place on their last day of striking, Tuesday. Fontes-May says, if an agreement has not been made at that point, workers are willing to strike until one is met.

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She says management has proposed a 15-cent increase but workers think it’s too low. She also called for more movement at the bargaining table from management. The workers say it’s hard serving clients when living paycheck to paycheck.

“It’s not a raise when you have to worry about things like feeding your family,” Powell said.

They’re also concerned about staffing levels. They say caseloads on some workers are too high and some shifts are not appropriately covered creating safety concerns.

“This is taking not only a physical toll on a lot of us but mentally it’s exhausting,” Mcintear said.

When asked why this is worth it, the workers say because they care about what they do.

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“Something that I love to do. I’m a very compassionate person and giving back to my community by helping them better help themselves with their mental health, their mental well-being, their physical health, their sobriety is a personal issue of mine,” Mcintear said.

"For some reason, there's this belief system that there's tons of money out there to be able to give, which if I had tons of money to give them, I would be the first one to do it, but I think the problem is based on the percentage that the state gave to nonprofit organizations." Gino DeMaio, Sound Community Services CEO said. "It was barely four percent and we tried to negotiate - we only had two and a half negotiations and they immediately went to picketing."

The strike will last 12 hours Sunday through Tuesday with workers returning on Wednesday if an agreement has been made.

Daniel Dashefsky is a digital content producer at FOX61 News. He can be reached at ddashefsky@fox61.com.


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