Merrimack Valley Human Service Workers Vote ‘Union Yes!’ at CLASS, Inc.

July 12, 2013

In an historic victory for workers’ rights in the Bay State, a majority of human service workers at Lawrence-based CLASS, Inc. voted ‘Union Yes!’ in their election.
The win caps off Merrimack Valley service providers’ aggressive, months-long effort to secure better pay, safer working conditions, and a greater voice in the workplace, efforts bolstered by MassCOSH support.
With the May 29 vote, more than 100 front-line service providers joined the Human Service Workers Union, SEIU Local 509 – making CLASS the first unionized affiliate of The Arc in Massachusetts, an industry umbrella that has opposed organizing efforts.
With three locations in Lawrence, North Andover, and North Reading, CLASS, Inc. provides services to hundreds of individuals with disabilities throughout the Merrimack Valley, such as day habilitative care, family resources and advocacy, job placement, and clinical case management.
Despite the vital role they play in the community, many human service workers at CLASS earn close to minimum wage and felt that management had not adequately addressed a host of health and safety concerns in recent months.
“I’ve been an Integrated Day Service Specialist at CLASS for over five years and I love my work,” said Liz Parrilla, one of the workers who participated in the union vote. “My co-workers and I know that SEIU Local 509 will stand with us in our fight for fair wages, safer working conditions and a real voice on the job. We’ve united to make our voices heard.”
CLASS employees worked with MassCOSH to elevate their concerns over working conditions.
“Workers reported a number of health and safety concerns, in particular pests and maintenance of vehicles,” said MassCOSH Executive Director Marcy Goldstein-Gelb.  “We were impressed by their courage to come forward to raise their voices.”
MassCOSH also helped the workers file a formal OSHA complaint, which received coverage in several local newspapers, including the Boston Globe.
“This is a monumental win for the many service providers at CLASS, Inc. who have worked tirelessly to secure better pay, improved working conditions and the voice they deserve in the workplace,” said Susan Tousignant, president of the Massachusetts Human Service Workers Union, SEIU Local 509. “MassCOSH has been there every step of the way to support human service workers’ efforts to ensure safe, healthy facilities for all the families they serve.”
For over 37 years, MassCOSH has helped workers organize their workplaces for better conditions, pay, and benefits. For more information on how you can start organizing your co-workers, email Tolle Graham Labor & Environment coordinator at