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

Union workers at the mental health clinic in New London started a three-day strike Sunday over pay and staffing levels

NEW LONDON, Conn. — 80% of union workers at Sound Community Services in New London began a three-day strike Sunday over pay and staffing levels at the mental health clinic.

SEIU 1199 NE represents 73 workers at the site. Kindra Fontes-May says workers have not received significant wage increases in decades. Their four-year contract is coming to an end and the union would like either a one-year contract or the ability to negotiate economic benefits yearly in a longer one.

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

Employees Donavon Powell, a greeter at Sound, and Tyischa Mcintear, a behavioral health homes case manager, are a part of the strike. They spoke with FOX61 Saturday about pay.

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

Powell said he has received one raise since starting with the company four years ago which was under 10 cents. 

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Sound Community Services CEO Gino DeMaio spoke with FOX61 Sunday about the strike and pay.

“It’s very sad that it’s come to this," he said. "They have every right to strike because they are in a union, but I do feel that it’s very difficult to provide the education around the finances that they really don’t understand."

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DeMaio says they had two negotiations with the union and they immediately went on strike. He says they have not received an answer on the offer presented which includes nearly a two-dollar raise and a thousand dollar contribution to health insurance.

He says workers were given a thousand dollars in June of 2020 and $3,600 the following year. He says the percentage the state has increased funding for non-profits barely went up 4%.

“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," he said.

The CEO said they do have a strike team contingency plan in place to cover programs, of which he says they are fully operational. He said non-union workers and managers as well as union workers are stepping in.

He said the union's wants would cost more than a million dollars a year for them which they cannot afford to stay open at that price. 

Workers were also concerned about staffing levels. Powell said the caseload is too high on some and many shifts are not appropriately staffed. DeMaio says staffing levels are where they need to be.

“We’ve never heard of any issues related to staffing at all. If anything we are probably overstaffed in many programs," he said.

He says the strike is disruptive to the clients they serve and feels as if the workers forgot about the money the company has given them in the past two years.

The union says if an agreement has not been made by Tuesday, the last day of their strike, workers are willing to continue striking.

Carmen Chau is an anchor and reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at cchau@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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