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AFSCME Rhode Island fights privatization of services to the elderly and disabled

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By Meredith Scalos ·

After a prolonged budget battle with Rhode Island state leaders, AFSCME members were able to protect key community services for the state’s elderly, disabled and vulnerable people against attempts to privatize and reduce them.

Such fights – and victories – are nothing new for AFSCME Rhode Island Council 94 members, who have been fighting attempts to close several of Rhode Island’s state-run facilities that serve vulnerable residents.

Shoestring budgets that fail to invest in critical services and instead pad the pockets of private companies have only made matters worse for workers and the people they serve in these facilities.

“The real thanks go to the workers who, during the pandemic, kept going to work while management spent millions on private vendors,” said J. Michael Downey, president of Council 94. “This outsourcing trend is troubling: hiring outside vendors to do the work our members – some who have been with these facilities for years and built relationships there – were hired to do. Thankfully, the governor has put the brakes on all of that.”

AFSCME Rhode Island members sent hundreds of letters and made calls to state legislators this year in a bid to defeat the latest round of proposals to outsource or cut services. Council 94 leaders and staff also lobbied lawmakers directly and took to the media to warn the public about the dire situation facing some of the state’s most vulnerable residents, many of whom have nowhere else to go.

Many Rhode Islanders who use the services in the state-run facilities such as Eleanor Slater Hospital and the Rhode Island Community Living and Supports (RICLAS) group homes have been living there for decades, having built relationships with their fellow residents and the caretakers and support staff. More than 500 workers at those two facilities are members of Council 94.

Reducing, and in some cases outsourcing, these services would harm the residents, increase their health risks and destroy the support systems they rely on.

In an independent report published last week, workers were praised for the high-level patient care at Eleanor Slater Hospital and other state-run facilities, making it clear that the workers put the safety and care of the residents above all else.

Council 94 members are committed to fighting attempts to harm vulnerable Rhode Islanders, and will continue to do so to ensure that Rhode Island’s public services remain strong and work for the people who need them most.

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