CHELMSFORD -- Nearly 200 LifeLinks employees have gone on strike after after a breakdown in contract negotiations, prompting the company to cancel day programs in its five area facilities.

A contract with workers who provide nursing and social care to those with developmental disabilities expired without an agreement on April 30, according to LifeLinks. The company and workers, represented by the union SEIU Local 509, had been meeting with a mediator since.

Workers began picketing outside LifeLinks' headquarters on Mill Road on Thursday, and continued Friday.

"Despite the vital role" LifeLinks employees play, "most human-service workers at the agency work two or three jobs just to make ends meet," the union said in a statement.

"Making matters worse, LifeLinks falls well short of industry standards on earned time off," SEIU said. "Agency managers offer little to no vacation time for workers in their first and second years of service -- and only three holidays a year. Combined with the tone LifeLinks management has brought to the negotiation table, these issues have driven many front-liners to feel their work has been devalued."

LifeLinks issued a statement Friday saying it will "continue to bargain in good faith, respectful of the privacy of our Staff and the confidentiality of the bargaining table."

CEO Jean Phelps said in an interview that about 180 of LifeLinks' 300 employees are covered under the collective bargaining agreement.


Day programs at facilities in Chelmsford, Dracut, Lowell, Tewksbury and Westford have been canceled for the time being, she said.

The centers also include group homes, which remain open.

"Agency operations continue and appropriate measures to assure the well-being of those in our care have been implemented," LifeLinks said in a statement. "Our primary focus is to ensure the safety and well-being of the people we support today, tomorrow and into the future."

The union quoted members attributing the strike to dignity, the value of hard work, and being able to provide quality services for clients.

"Until LifeLinks addresses their low wages and leave-time restrictions, our agency will continue to be short-staffed," 20-year employee Lisa D'Orsi said.

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