About 300 employees of the human services agency Fidelity House CRC have been on strike as they seek a better contract offering higher wages and equity in pay.
The strike began on Tuesday of last week with a solidarity rally in Lawrence that included Mayor Daniel Rivera, state Rep. Marcos Devers, D-Lawrence, and Lawrence City Council President Kendrys Vasquez.
The strike continued last Wednesday with about 20 union members picketing at the agency's 22 Park Ridge Road location in Haverhill's Ward Hill Business Park and about 100 members picketing at the agency's 439 South Union St. location in Lawrence, where the agency's headquarters are located.
In January, Career Resources Corporation of Haverhill and Fidelity House of Lawrence merged to create a new organization, Fidelity House CRC. The merger created the nonprofit Fidelity House CRC, the largest provider of services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the Merrimack Valley.
Brad Howell, who served as CEO of Career Resources Corporation for 13 years, was appointed president and CEO of the new organization, which is is funded primarily through contracts with the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services, Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission and MassHealth.
Daniel Hoffer, private sector coordinator for Service Employees International Union 509, said his union has been in contract negotiations with Fidelity CRC since late June, but that the talks reached an impasse. He said the strike is expected to continue until a contract agreement is reached.
"We are striking for a fair wage for all employees, and equal pay for equal work," he said.
He said the union has asked for a 3% pay raise in the first year of a new contract and 3% in the second year for all employees, as well as equity in pay for day workers who work at the agency's offices, who he said do the same work as higher-paid residential staff.
Residential union workers are employed at the agency's 26 group homes, located in Haverhill, Methuen, Andover, Salisbury, Amesbury, Lawrence and Georgetown, while union day workers are primarily employed at the Parkridge Road location in Haverhill, which provides a variety of day services and job skills training.
The union represents nearly 300 direct support professionals working in state-funded residential, day services and employment programs for people with developmental disabilities such as autism and Down syndrome, as well as clients with brain injuries.
Members of the union at Fidelity House overwhelmingly voted to authorize the strike, delivering management with the legally required 10-day notice of their intent to strike, Hoffer said.
In response to the strike, the agency is implementing contingency plans for staffing its residential programs for adults with disabilities, according to a press release issued by Howell.
"Our residential programs will be staffed by those employees who choose not to participate in the strike, management personnel and by temporary staff," Howell said.