Woonsocket, RI - Over 200 employees of Seven Hills of Rhode Island (formerly The Homestead Group and before that The ARC of Northern Rhode Island), a provider of services to the developmentally disabled, took to the picket line on Friday, holding a one day strike which began at 8:00am and ended around 6:00pm.
The strike is in response to the Employer’s unilateral, and in the opinion of the Union, unlawful imposition of a 5% pay cut on front line staff in addition to severe cuts to medical benefits, elimination of the employer paid dental plan, drastic cuts to retirement contributions and less paid time off. Employees are particularly outraged by the Employer sparing supervisors and administrators the same cuts as front line staff. Cuts to administrators and supervisors are 3%. The Union has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.
Seven Hills’ developmentally disabled consumers–and their dedicated caregivers–have been crippled by an over $24 million reduction in reimbursements embodied in cuts imposed by the State in the current budget. However unconscionable the budget cuts are, cutting lower paid frontline staff 5% while administrators and supervisors are cut 3% is an inexcusable injustice.
Without excusing the Employer’s conduct, the Union points out that Governor Chafee has turned his back on the developmentally disabled community by refusing to restore one penny in cuts in his current budget. In addition, House Speaker Gordon Fox and House Finance Chairman Helio Melo are equally to blame for both approving the $24 million in cuts in the current budget and their arrogant and heartless refusal to restore any of the cuts during this General Assembly session. As a result of Governor Chafee, Speaker Fox, Finance Chairman Melo, and the Employer’s actions and inactions, low wage workers are being pushed below the poverty level and medical and dental plans are made unaffordable. The majority of employees earn less than $10 per hour and have had only one raise in the last 7 years.
Union President Michelle Armstrong said, “It breaks my heart to see so many of my coworkers pushed to the brink of financial ruin. They simply can’t take anymore. None of us expect to get rich doing this work but none of us expect to be kicked around by an arrogant employer, a heartless governor and an indifferent House Speaker. Why are we cutting the pay of the front line staff who cares for our most vulnerable citizens, while giving lesser pay cuts to management, the ones who can afford it. Many of these workers will be forced into poverty.”