Without contract agreement, union strikes again at Groden Center schools

PROVIDENCE – Groden Center behavioral specialists represented by District 1199 SEIU New England began a planned three-day strike Tuesday.

The strike extends an ongoing contract dispute between the Groden Center’s behavioral specialists and the Groden Network management.

The Groden Center schools, part of the Groden Network, provide a range of individualized services to children and youth with autism, behavioral disorders and developmental disabilities and their families.

The workers’ contract expired at the end of June and the union has been in negotiations with the Groden Network since, already striking one day in August. Both the Groden Network and the union have noted that while there have been ongoing negotiations, no agreement has been reached as of yet.

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The two sides are working with a federal negotiator to reach an agreement.

The union has asserted complaints of low pay, high turnover and placing inexperienced temporary staff during their picket of the center’s schools in Providence and Coventry.

A spokeswoman for the schools, Catherine Nassa, said the strike comes after the sides failed to reach an agreement on Wednesday and Friday. The Groden Network asserts that it offered a raise and contract extension on Friday – an offer that it still currently stands by.

Meanwhile, the union said the school has not responded to its most recent proposal.

Nassa also noted the school has closed for the entirety of the strike due to safety concerns – expecting the strike to continue for three days.

“We love our students and don’t want to be on strike again,” said Samantha Lozeau, a behavior specialist at Groden South School in Coventry, in a statement Tuesday. “But we have tried so hard to get management to take our concerns seriously, and they continue to spend money on temp agency staff so our students aren’t getting the education or services they deserve. Most of our students cannot stand up and speak for themselves, so we are going to be their voice and fight for better schools for all educators and students.”

Another meeting between the two sides has not yet been scheduled.

A union spokesman, Emmanuel Falck, told PBN Tuesday that “Groden members are ready to meet, reach a deal and a get back to work tomorrow or Thursday.”

The Groden Network also said in a statement, “We continue to bargain in good faith but request dialogue regarding mutually agreeable fair and reasonable dates and times for negotiation sessions.”

Chris Bergenheim is the PBN web editor. Email him at Bergenheim@PBN.com.