Frontline caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities at The Arc of Blackstone Valley picket to demand better staffing, increased wages, dignity and respect…
“We are here basically trying to get safe staffing and also to get adequate pay for what we do,” said Monica Scott, a direct support professional with Arc of Blackstone Valley for 24 years. She was participating in an informational picket, helping to get the word out about conditions at her job. The Arc of Blackstone is one of the largest private sector employers in Pawtucket, with over 200 caregivers who have dedicated their lives to caring for people with developmental disabilities.
“Safe staffing is making sure that there’s enough staff in a home for the clients we support,” said Scott. Reflecting on caring for four men, Scott said, “It’s kind of hard to pass meds, cook their meals, make sure they’re safe in the bathroom and the showers when there’s only one person on.”
As for wages, “I believe that the people doing this work should be making more than $15 an hour, especially being in here as long as I have. I’ve been here for 24 years an I make $13.70 to do what I do.”
“I love the folks that I support, and I love what I do, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world, but when I have to be at work more than I am at home, that’s not fair to me.”
State Representative Joseph McNamara (Democrat, District 19, Warwick), who joined the informational picket outside the Arc of Blackstone Valley, agreed. “You have to be a special person to do this kind of work,” said McNamara, but being a good person doesn’t put food on the table.”
Other state lawmakers on hand to support the workers were Representatives David Bennett (Democrat, District 20, Warwick), James Jackson (Democrat, District 26, West Warwick) and Jean Philippe Barros (Democrat, District 59, Pawtucket).
Most direct care workers make about $13 an hour, or $27,000 annually. As a result, many of these workers seek public assistance, or get a second job to survive.
The CEO of Arc of Blackstone Valley, in contrast, makes $360,000 annually and the COO recently received a 12 percent raise, but the company maintains that it cannot afford to pay their employees more. “This is supposed to be a nonprofit,” said Scott. “We’re supposed to be about the clients. Well, how about you invest that money in your staff so we can have enough staff to care for our clients?”
Low wages and short staffing leads to high turnover. The Arc of Blackstone Valley and similar agencies have turnover rates as high as 33 percent, which leads to diminished quality of care.
Workers at Blackstone Valley managed to convince the General Assembly to pass Medicaid increases that raised their salaries, but Arc of Blackstone offered the minimum allowable increase to their workers. The union, SEIU 1199, says that without transparent accountability, “there are no guarantees that the increased reimbursement will go into frontline care and wage increases.”
“We’re doing really important work and we love the clients we support,” said Africa Ben, a direct support professional, in a statement. “But the wages are so low we can’t find qualified staff. That means high-turnover and short staffing, which is bad for our clients. We deserve good raises and they deserve good care.”
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