A delegation of elected officials, faith and community leaders gathered at the Lawrence headquarters of ARC affiliate CLASS, Inc. today in a display of widespread support for human service workers who voted to form a union May 29. On behalf of concerned community members from throughout the Merrimack Valley, the group demanded a meeting with CLASS CEO Bob Harris to discuss delays in contract negotiations and alleged retaliatory discipline that has been dispatched in the weeks since workers’ voted to join the Human Service Workers Union, SEIU Local 509.
Led by City Councilor Sandy Almonte and Human Rights Commission Chairman Pastor Victor Jarvis, the delegation included Lawrence Human Rights Commissioners John Cave and Annia Lember, Susan Winning of UMASS-Lowell, and Rosemarie Buxton and Luke Hill from the Merrimack Valley Project. Harris was said to be unavailable and other members of the CLASS management team refused to meet with the group, forcing community leaders to deliver their demands in letter form. Check out a copy of the letter by clicking here.
“Human service agencies are supposed to have the community’s best interests at heart, and those interests must include the workers who provide vital services to people with disabilities,” said Pastor Victor Jarvis, Chairman of the Lawrence Human Rights Commission. “These workers have a fundamental right to respect and dignity in the workplace; any retaliatory action taken against them would be a serious betrayal of the mission of an agency like CLASS.”
The May 29 union vote was a historic victory for workers’ rights in the Bay State, capping off an aggressive, months-long campaign to secure better pay, improved working conditions and a greater voice in the workplace. A majority of the 100+ front-line service providers in Lawrence, North Andover and North Reading voted to join the Human Service Workers Union – making CLASS the first unionized affiliate of The Arc in Massachusetts. CEO Harris and the management team at CLASS have spent untold thousands on anti-union consultants and legal counsel in recent months. The impact on client care and service budgets is unknown.
“I’m shocked that an agency in our community could spend so recklessly on litigation and consultants, considering the potential impact on the those who rely on these services,” said Lawrence City Councilor Sandy Almonte. “The workers at CLASS made their voices heard, and we should all be working together now to ensure people with disabilities receive the highest quality of care.”