Direct care workers deserve more than recognition

They need a union and more pay

FOR MANY, the COVID-19 crisis has shone light on the key role that human service workers play in protecting and caring for our communities. In the private sector, direct care providers serve some of the most vulnerable in our society, caring for individuals with developmental disabilities, addictions, or mental illnesses. Often, this work happens in group home settings and is invisible to many of us. Now, as we learn more about the conditions under which COVID-19 is spreading, group home and direct care work are becoming a more central part of the public health narrative. By extension, we are learning more about the difficult circumstances that many direct care workers are facing across the country.

As CEO Sean Rose wrote in an op-ed last week, workers at Thrive Support & Advocacy are no exception. They are dedicated professionals who are providing care for individuals with developmental disabilities. Because of the nature of direct care work, they are also among those disproportionately exposed to COVID-19. Yet, despite a recent 25 percent increase in funding from the state for private sector agencies, Thrive workers are still not receiving hazard pay. Many of them have done this invaluable work for years — some more than a decade — and now, more than ever, it is clear that they deserve more than our gratitude.

That’s why Thrive workers deserve the union they have been fighting for since late last year.

Meet the Author

Peter MacKinnon

President, SEIU Local 509, the Massachusetts Union for Human Service Workers and Educators
Thrive workers could join the millions of unionized workers across the country who have a voice in their working conditions, a right that is especially important during this public health crisis but should also extend beyond it. In the context of a pandemic, direct care workers, the individuals they serve, and their loved ones are at great risk since social distancing measures cannot be followed when helping someone bathe, feed, and care for themselves. But even before COVID-19, Thrive workers were working under precarious circumstances. Low wages, high healthcare costs, and no clear policies for seniority or even discipline prompted them to come together to advocate for better working conditions.

The sacrifices that direct care workers are making to serve our communities deserve more than recognition. Thrive workers deserve to be able to care for themselves and their loved ones. If Sean Rose truly wants to honor the essential workers at Thrive, he would not have gotten in the way of allowing them to have their union.

Peter MacKinnon is the president of SEIU Local 509, the Massachusetts Union for Human Service Workers and Educators.