We hope a federal investigation of Triangle, Inc., a corporate provider to the Department of Developmental Services for alleged anti-union activity brings public attention to the potential for privatization of DDS programs to result in low pay for provider staff and poor care.
In our view, the alleged efforts by Malden-based Triangle’s management to block staff from unionizing imply an implicit acknowledgement by the management that it wants to keep direct-care wages low. Low wages, in turn, result in lower-quality care.
In preventing their workers from organizing, providers like Triangle appear to be pitting themselves against the growing movement in Massachusetts for a $15 living wage for workers.
The Boston Globe reported earlier this month that the National Labor Relations Board has issued a formal complaint against Triangle after at least three former employees of the provider were allegedly fired for helping organize the agency’s staff to unionize with SEIU Local 509. The union represents both state workers and staff of state-funded providers to agencies such as DDS.
Triangle’s chief executive, Coleman Nee, allegedly stated that anyone in the agency who even voiced support for the union could be fired. Nee is a former Cabinet secretary under then Governor Deval Patrick.
The relatively low level of pay and benefits to direct-care staff in human services has been a long-standing issue in Massachusetts and elsewhere around the country.
“Nonprofit DDS providers do not want to pay a living wage to their direct care workers because their CEOs are keeping the money for themselves,” COFAR Executive Director Colleen Lutkevich wrote in a comment on the Globe site. “It can only benefit people with developmental disabilities if unions help these workers to earn more money. The management is a disgrace and it’s not the people they serve that benefit, it is their own pocketbooks.”
COFAR and SEIU Local 509 have tracked both corporate provider executive and direct-care compensation in recent years. Last May, the SEIU released a report charging that major increases in state funding to corporate human services providers during the previous six years had boosted the providers’ CEO pay to an average of $239,500, but that direct-care workers were not getting a proportionate share of that additional funding.
As of Fiscal 2016, direct-care workers employed by the providers were paid an average of only $13.60 an hour, according to the SEIU report.
The SEIU further noted that the increases in funding to the providers, known as “Chapter 257” rate setting reforms, had actually allowed the providers to earn $51.8 million in net or surplus revenues (over expenses) in Fiscal 2016. As the report stated, those surplus revenues would have more than covered the estimated $34 million cost of boosting all direct-care workers’ wages to $15 per hour.
Based on that report, state Senator Jamie Eldridge filed a budget amendment last year to require human services providers in Massachusetts to spend some of their surplus revenues on raising direct-care wages to $15 per hour. The measure was rejected, however, by a House-Senate conference committee on the budget.
It was not clear whether Eldridge intends to refile his amendment this spring. The SEIU as well has turned its attention away from that proposal and toward proposed legislation and a proposed ballot question in November that would raise the minimum wage for all workers in Massachusetts to $15 per hour.
While we support the legislation and ballot question aimed at all workers, we would also hope that Eldridge’s amendment would be reintroduced given that the funding apparently already exists to fully fund a $15 per hour living wage for human services workers.
Privatized human services reflect larger inequities
The privatized human services system in Massachusetts, in fact, reflects income inequities and other problems with privatized services in other areas of the economy.
As state funding has been boosted to corporate providers serving DDS and other human services departments, a bureaucracy of executive-level personnel has arisen in those provider agencies. That executive bureaucracy appears to be suppressing wages of front-line, direct-care workers and is at least partly responsible for the rapidly rising cost of the human services budget.
Ironically, a key reason for a continuing effort by the administration and Legislature to privatize human services has been to save money. However, we think that privatization is actually having the opposite effect.
Triangle executives are lavishly compensated
Triangle Inc. appears to be a microcosm of the human services system in Massachusetts, and to reflect many of its problems.
The Globe reported that Triangle had some 3,900 people enrolled in various programs and services during Fiscal 2017. The agency received $10.2 million in revenue in Fiscal 2017, including $6.9 million in funding from DDS, according to the state’s online UFR database.
Coleman Nee, the Triangle CEO, is listed on the UFR database as having received $223,570 in total compensation in Fiscal 2017. That may not cover an entire year with the agency.
It appears Nee started with Triangle sometime in 2016. Prior to him, the CEO was Michael Rodrigues, who made $257,442, according to IRS Form 990 for Fiscal 2016. That year’s Form 990 lists six executives, including Rodrigues, as making over $100,000 at Triangle.
It is unconsionable that executives of nonprofit agencies who are making six-figure incomes paid for with state funds are engaging in efforts to supress the pay of their direct-care employees. The fig leaf offered by a nonprofit moniker does not protect those executives from either charges or the appearance of profiting inappropriately off the taxpayers.
Its’s time for the Legislature to take steps to reform the DDS system, starting with a concrete action to raise direct-care wages.