Autism clinic for children forced to shut down after employees go on strike

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(ABC 6 News) – A clinic for autistic children was forced to shut down Monday, after its employees didn’t show up for work.

Employees at Bluestem Center for Autism say they haven’t been paid on time for months. Now, they are going on strike, demanding change.

Monday, 90% of employees at the clinic’s Byron location did not show up for work, leaving families to have to find last-minute alternate child care.

According to employees, these families were told everyone was out sick, but they say its time these parents know the truth.

“I have two little boys at home that I have to try to feed and clothe and everything, so not getting paid? That puts a huge pressure on our family,” explained Naomi Mielke, the clinical lead at the Byron location.

Employees like Mielke were forced to make the difficult decision of boycotting the clinic after they say they did not receive their most recent paycheck again.

She says they were supposed to be paid last Friday. Instead, they were told checks would not be coming for another six days.

“My guts telling me something is really wrong and it’s not normal. It’s not normal to not get our paychecks and it’s not normal for this to continue to happen,” Mielke said.

This week, employees are refusing to go back to work until they get those paychecks.

“I don’t think we’ll be paid this Wednesday honestly,” added Jon Arndt, a registered behavior technician at the clinic also on strike. “And then I’m not gonna show up and I’ll keep fighting and tell my coworkers out there I hope you join the fight too.”

According to Bluestem employees, checks have been coming late for months.

In a statement to ABC 6 News, Bluestem leaders say the late payment is due to a delay in public and private insurance reimbursements.

Employees claim three of the latest three payments have been late. Bluestem claims two of the last payments were late.

Regardless of the reason, employees say not being paid is not fair.

“I know that the repercussions of this can be terrible, and I might not have a job tomorrow or today, but I can’t just keep letting it happen either,” Mielke said.

These employees say going on strike was a difficult decision. But behavior therapist technician Natalie Quandt says not getting paid is also difficult.

“There was a time that I didn’t get paid, and I had to choose between child care and formula for my child,” Quandt, who works at the Rochester location, explained. “It’s very much affected all facets of my life.”

The group says they love their job, but they need more stability from the clinic.

“At the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry that we had to cancel clients today, but at some point the people that called in today have to take care of their own families,” Quandt says. “I hope that the parents that receive this message understand that.”

For now, the Rochester location is still open but the Byron location remains unclear as these workers say they will continue to strike until at least Wednesday.

Families depending on these locations may need to look into alternative child care over the next few days.

The full statement from Bluestem Center for Autism is below:

“The statement of delayed payroll over the last two pay periods is accurate. This understandably has caused staff to refrain from coming to work until they are paid. Due to the staff to client ratio, the decision was made to cancel services in the Byron location.

The reason for the payroll delay is due to a delay in public and private insurance reimbursements, significant enough to force us to not complete payroll on time. A sizeable portion of insurance reimbursements have not come through yet.

To resolve this situation, we are contacting insurance companies withholding reimbursement. We have also been in contact with several different State and Federal agencies in order to help navigate and resolve these delays in reimbursements.

The implications that delayed payroll has caused is unacceptable and we are doing everything in our power to correct it now and going forward”

-Bluestem Center for Autism Leadership