Connecticut mental health care workers strike over quality patient care
Union mental health workers employed by Sound Community Services, Inc went on strike in demand of increased wages, access to benefits, and improved staffing conditions that will allow them to provide quality care, while protecting themselves and their families. | SEIU District 1199 NE

NEW LONDON, Conn. – Workers at Sound Community Services walked the picket lines for three days, starting Sunday April 24,  demanding increased wages, access to benefits, and improved staffing conditions that will allow them to provide quality care to mental health patients, while also protecting them and their families.

Striking workers, members of District 1199, SEIU, New England Health Care Employees Union, have worked without a contract since 2019. A major issue is achieving a living wage for residential workers and case managers. Residential workers make $15.37 an hour while case managers earn about $17.00 per hour. Strikers are fighting for a $20.00-per-hour wage that comes closer to a living wage for workers in Southeastern Connecticut.

Workers on the picket line talked about their struggles to support their families while the CEO of Sound Community Services makes over $200,000 per year and received a 10 per cent raise while the workers have not had a raise in years. They mentioned that they do not have a pension plan.

The cost of employee health care is another issue that illustrates how workers struggle to obtain affordable health care. Workers pay up to $800 dollars per month for health insurance. This is an amount that most workers cannot afford to pay. The striking workers and their union are demanding that Sound Community Services pay $9,000 per year for each worker’s health premiums.

District 1199 has pointed out that mental healthcare workers perform lifesaving work, yet dangerous staffing shortages and low wages prevent workers from being able to perform adequate services for their mental health clients.

Rob Baril, District 1199 President, stated, “Over the last several decades, state leaders have outsourced public mental health work to nonprofits like Gilead (Middletown, Conn.) and Sound (New London) with the pretext of cutting costs. These services rely on state funding, which has been stagnant for years. We have reached a point where we do not have sufficient resources to run these programs and support staff.”

He added “Cutting corners is not the way to improving mental health services and care for hundreds of vulnerable Black, brown and white people in our communities.”

Strikers have support from local elected officials.

New London Mayor Michael Passero walked the picket line last Sunday, supporting strikers demands for adequate pay, affordable health care,  pension benefits and working conditions that protect the workers and mental health patients. Several New London City Council members also joined the picket line on Sunday.

Numerous people drive by and honk their car horns in support of strikers on the picket line while others come up to express their support.

The issues faced by these workers in New London are also reflected at other community non-profits providing care to mental health patients across Connecticut. District 1199 union workers at Gilead, another mental health care provider located in Middletown, will be conducting a three-day strike starting May 5th.

Striking workers at Sound Community Services and Gilead are fighting for decent working conditions, wages and benefits that can support working families, and adequate services for mental health patients. They deserve the active support of organized labor and legislators as they walk the picket line for their patients and their families.


Gil Netter
Gil Netter

Gil Netter is a writer from Connecticut.