Groden Center behavioral specialists issue strike notice for Aug. 17

This article has been updated with additional comments from The Groden Network responding to the union's complaints.

DISTRICT 1199 SEIU NEW ENGLAND, representing Groden Center behavioral specialists, has issued a ten-day strike notice to the Groden Center for a one day strike on Aug. 17. Above, workers picketing the Groden Center last week. / COURTESY DISTRICT 1199 SEIU NEW ENGLAND

PROVIDENCE – District 1199 SEIU New England, representing Groden Center behavioral specialists as they negotiate a new contract, has given the Groden Network notice of its intent to strike for one day on Aug. 17.

The Groden Network, which operates The Groden Center, announced the development Thursday night. The union gave its strike notice after a two-hour meeting between the respective parties’ negotiation teams and a federal mediator, according to a statement from The Groden Network.

The Groden Network stated that it has bargained in good faith, offering wage increases, maintenance of health insurance benefits and improvements sought by the union.

District 1199 SEIU New England said in a statement that members issued the strike notice due to The Groden Network’s continuing refusal to address safe staffing concerns and high turnover. The union stated the strike notice was also in response to management refusing to share information regarding how much the center is spending on temporary staff.

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Responding to the union’s complaint about refusing to release information on pay for temporary workers, Catherine Nassa, director of marketing and development at The Groden Network, said the issue is the subject of an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board filed by the union.

“This information does not relate directly to bargaining unit employees, so the union must establish the relevance of the information. The regional director of Region 3 of the NLRB has suggested the Groden settle the case. We have chosen instead to exercise our right to be heard by a federal Administrative Law Judge,” Nassa said.

Students who struggle in traditional public schools are sent to Groden, paid for in part by public funding, to receive specialized education more suited to their educational needs. Currently more than one third of classroom shifts for behavioral specialists are being covered by temporary staff which lack training and familiarity with students, according to a statement from the union.

“We love our students, that is why we are doing this. Students with autism need consistent care from educators they know.  But there is so much turnover and under-trained and inconsistent temp staff here, they are not getting the education they need and skewed priorities are not putting students first,” said Kaile Bautista, a behavioral specialist at the Groden Center for eight years.

“Behavioral specialists hope that management will finally shift their priorities and begin to invest less in bloated administrative costs and executive pay and offer a living wage to curtail high staff turnover which hurts students with Autism,” Bautista said.

“Please be assured our number one priority continues to be the education and welfare of the nearly 100 children and their families we serve on a daily basis. In the coming days, we will begin notifying our stakeholders of our operational plan in response to the strike notice issued by Local #1199,” the statement read.

The behavioral specialsts’ contract expired June 30. The union held an informational picket of the center’s schools in Providence and Coventry July 25 to call attention to their complaints of low pay, high turnover and placing inexperienced temporary staff. They also asked The Groden Network to meet with their negotiation team weekly instead of every other week.

Nassa said The Groden Network has provided the union with data showing temporary staff usage to cover direct support shifts over a recent 12-month period.

“The data supplied shows 17 percent of our total direct care shift at our Providence School site and 13 percent at our Coventry School were filled by temporary staff. The average of both locations was 15.5 percent. This is significantly lower than the one-third number the union is stating.”

Regarding the union’s complaint of untrained staff, Nassa said The Groden Nework’s vendor will only refer individuals with six months or more experience working with individuals diagnosed with autism.

“We stand by the fact our students receive a quality education and care,” Nassa said.

Rob Borkowski is a PBN staff writer. Email him at

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