350 Workers Will Go on Strike Starting July 22

More than 350 workers, most of whom live in the Valley, are set to go on strike starting July 22. Stephanie Agnew is one of them. She lives in Northampton. “We want better pay and benefits,” she told the Valley Post on July 17. “We're not trying to get rich. We want a living wage. Also, our bosses are trying to get us to see more clients per week. It is already difficult to deal with the number of clients we have."

The workers are employed by a government-funded agency. The workers' union has a web site at www.seiu509.org. The agency's web site is www.csoinc.org. Strikes by union workers happen when a majority of the workers vote to go on strike.

Andrew Berger has worked at the agency's Northampton office for more than four years. His title is clinical mental health counselor.  “We aren't adequately paid,” he told the Valley Post earlier this year.

Berger said many of his co-workers succumb to pressure from management to work more than 40 hours a week, even though they only get paid for 40 hours. He said that 28 percent of his 354 co-workers are paid less than $15 an hour. Advanced degrees are required for mental health workers; many of the workers have student loan debt.

Mental health workers help prevent suicide, one of the nation's leading causes of death. Suicide is almost twice as common as murder in the United States.

The agency gets about two-thirds of its funding from the government. Funding for higher wages could come from raising taxes on millionaires.

In 2011, there were 11,557 Massachusetts residents who made over $1 million a year, according to the state tax department.

More information about the strike is available from Jerry Levinsky. He works for the union that Agnew, Berger, and their co-workers belong to. Levinky's office phone number is (413) 858-1902. His cell number is (413) 336-3334, e-mail: jlevinsky@seiu509.org.

The local chapter of www.jwj.org is organizing community support for the strike.

On average, workers in the USA make about 25 percent higher wages when they join a union. That's according to www.bls.gov.

Most union contracts say workers can only be fired for "just cause." Non-union workers can be fired at any time for no reason.

Millions of workers in the USA are union members, including all the workers at UPS, Stop and Shop, and at the food co-ops in Northampton, Greenfield, and Brattleboro.

The following doctors signed a public letter dated July 17 in support of the strike:

Shelly Berkowitz, MD, Northampton; Rebecca Jones, MD, Whately; Susan Lowery, MD, Amherst; Marianna Marguglio, MD, Amherst; John Murphy, MD, Northampton; Victoria Noble, MD, Belchertown; Evelyn Villa, MD, Springfield; Bruce Weinraub, MD, Northampton. The doctors wrote, “As members of the Western Massachusetts medical community, we wish to express our support for the frontline mental health workers from Clinical and Support Options (CSO) who, represented by local SEIU 509, have announced a strike beginning on July 22.”


Clinical and Support Options

As a taxpayer and former employee of Clinical and Support Options, I totally support the workers planning to go on strike. The management at the CSO office I worked in was very poor. Productivity requirements were unrealistic. I often heard the comment, "Oh no, I have vacation next week. I'm never going to meet my productivity requirements. I'll probably get in trouble." Yes, this is an agency you want to work for if you like getting in trouble for taking a vacation.

As far as the court-ordered Childrens and Behavioral Health Initiative (CBHI) which the agency has been in charge of managing? One can view documents online that clearly document the inability of the agency (and the CBHI system in general) to fulfill these court-ordered regulations. These folks are NOT good stewards of taxpayer monies. Take a look at Karen Jeffers's salary then go back and read about what she says about the whole kerfuffle. To me her words ring hollow.

I admired many clinicians and coworkers while I worked there, however they were all consistently beat down due to poor management and productivity requirements. I say clean house of the upper management and assign the CBHI contract to another mental health agency. CSO may be possibly creating more mental illness as opposed to helping mentally ill people. Support the workers and, as a taxpayer, be appalled.

Thanks for explaining

Thanks for explaining something about strikes and where money for higher wages could come from. Only too often, reports of workers organizing leave out the basic facts that many readers need to know but never heard explained.

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