Issues: Training, Recruitment & Retention

A highly skilled, robust, professional workforce is essential to providing quality service and supports for persons with disabilities and mental illness.  Low wages and limited access to benefits has resulted in, extremely high turnover in the human service workforce.  This turnover can cause gaps in services, create lack of continuity in care, and interfere with the development of positive relationships between workers and those they support.  We are committed to establishing the human services profession as a viable career path with decent wages, benefits, opportunities for growth and training, and other initiatives to recruit, train and retain a workforce that can provide high quality service and supports.


SEIU Local 509 and Mental Health Advocates in the News

Mental Health Advocates and Local 509 had a great week with the release of the State Mental Health Safety Task force Report, which received good coverage in last week’s papers.

In addition, the Conference Budget recommendation for the Department of Mental Health (DMH) is higher than either the original House or Senate Recommendations, which is unheard of particularly during this economic climate. DMH retained additional adult community funding and the hospital account and the Child/Adolescent Account were funded close to the Maintenance. SEIU Local 509 advocated for better funding, through a rally at the State House and working with policy makers to show the importance of mental health funding. After the death of human service worker Stephanie Moulton, SEIU Local 509 advocated that the State initiate a statewide safety review and include worker voices within the processes. DMH did indeed initiated a Safety Task force. John Labaki Local 509, Jon Grossman Local 509, and Toby Fisher SEIU were all instrumental in insuring that a strong worker voice from both public and private sectors was present. SEIU Local 509 advocated strongly for improving safety protocols, maintaining safe staffing ratios, initiating competitive salaries, and insuring reasonable caseloads, and they got all of them and more in the report. Completing this Task Force Report was a difficult challenge and a politically volatile issue. Striking a balance of safety, consumer rights, budget issues, and principals of community treatment was a Herculean effort. The report is very comprehensive and its recommendations are larger in scope than can be accomplished in the immediate future. Yet Mental Health Advocates United and SEIU Local 509 will keep the momentum for improving DMH funding and to start implementations plans on the Task Force recommendations.

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CA Senate Votes Today on Self-Determination Bill

Today marks an important step in the political process that could give people with disabilities more control over their lives and and allow the workforce providing these services to join together in a union to improve their jobs and the program.  AB 1244 (Chesbro) is up for a vote in the Senate Committee on Human Services today.    We need to make sure the  committee stands with people with  disabilities and workers who want self-determination and votes yes on the bill.

Tell the Committee to vote yes!

Under the Self-Determination program:

  • Individuals would have the authority and  budget to control their own services and supports, and to transform their lives by focusing their individual life goals
  • Individuals could hire and manage their own direct support workers and dismiss them if it isn’t the right fit
  • Workers, employed directly by the individual, could seek to improve their jobs and the program by forming a union if they choose

The Senate Committee on Human Services is holding a vote on the bill today.  We need to make sure the committee does the right thing for people with disabilities and votes yes on this important bill.

Tell the Senate Committee on Human Services to vote yes on AB 1244.

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Mental Health Advocates United:Recent Victories

The Local 509 Union and Mental Health Advocates United Campaign has been extremely successful  defending and improving the mental health system in Massachusetts.   Over the past few months the Campaign has focused on stopping budget cuts, creating safe jobs with increased staffing levels and restoring the case management cuts from 2009.  Some of the results  just last week are:  successes

1. Members of the union and staff were quoted in  Friday’s NY Times article on the Massachusetts Mental Health system: A Schizophrenic, a Slain Worker, Troubling Questions

The article describes the impact of budget and staffing cuts to Massachusetts’ mental health system:

“It’s sort of a cross your fingers and pray approach,” said Scott Bezzini, a mental health outreach worker who is on leave to work for his union.

For those in the community, the department has shifted in recent years from a model of care that sees serious mental illness as a long-term disability to a “recovery” model, which seeks to move clients into increasingly less restrictive, less supervised and less costly living situations.

“It’s all about getting people discharged as opposed to getting them treatment,” said Jill Homer, a state-employed case manager for three decades, who nonetheless feels that the system has “fumbled through” its downsizing fairly well.

2. In January, the Local 509 held a candlelight vigil demanding the state have a statewide review of the mental health system after a worker was killed allegedly at the hands of a mental health client at a  group home in Revere.   The Department of Mental Health created a Safety task force convened and appointed John Labaki, DMH Chapter President.  He has been accompanied by Jon Grossman and Toby Fisher and together they have had a huge impact to insure the task force helps improve worker rights and  creates safer workplaces.

3. The Mental Health Advocates United Campaign filed an oversight bill on the Community based Mental System that will insure workers rights and safety. Last week the bill was reported out unanimously in favor by the Massachusetts Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee. This is a huge victory and the bill now moves on to the Ways and Means committee

4. Local 509 leaders have been fighting to restore public case manger jobs. They have been working with administration officials about the recall of the laid off Case Mangers. There are few if any in the mental health system who will disagree that adding 100 experienced case managers to a fraying mental health system will significantly help the system.

There’s more work to be done and we need your help.  Sign-up here to keep up to date on our work in MA and elsewhere to protect vital human services.

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Local 509 Members Testify on CBFS Bill

  Local 509 members, staff, and allies testify before the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee.

Local 509 members, staff, and allies testify before the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee.

On May 17, Local 509 members testified in support of House Bill H1429 that would create an Oversight Commission for the state’s Community Based Flexible Supports (CBFS) system. Joined by members of the mental health community and other allies, Local 509 members Sheelagh O’Connor (DMH) and Dennis MacDonald (Eliot) spoke of their experience working within the CBFS system and the need for more oversight and transparency in its administration.

Introduced by Rep. Jim O’Day, the bill (H1429) will:

  • Ensure that consumers are provided quality care, not slashed staffing or neglected crucial services.
  • Ensure that all stakeholder voices are heard, including consumers, family members, workers, providers, legislators, and DMH.
  • Look to maximize funding through Federal reimbursement strategies and incentives.
  • Review original outcome measures, not currently public information.
  • Evaluate relevant incident reports, safety concerns, and suicide data

Thanks to all 509 members and allies who attended and testified in support of the bill!

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Stories from the field: Employment of People With Disabilities

During SEIUs 2008 Convention, our union members passed a resolution committing the resources and leadership of the union to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities in good union jobs with benefits. The following is an example shared by SEIU Local 721 member David Mulvey about how SEIU Local 1021 in California has worked to implement this resolution and part of an upcoming series of blog posts on this topic.

Derrick is a young man with autism, a developmental disability, who worked at a local hospital though his high school ROP program. Upon graduation he continued to volunteer at the hospital, but there was not an opportunity to become a paid employee. He then applied for and was accepted into Children’s Hospital Oakland’s Project SEARCH program operated by East Bay Innovations.

Derrick, an adult with autism, Project Search graduate and proud union member.

Derrick, an adult with autism, Project Search graduate and proud union member.

Derrick did well in his Project SEARCH internship assignments, but continued to talk to his job coaches about his desire to return to work at his old hospital. East Bay Innovations and Derrick’s former ROP teacher contacted Derrick’s former manager at the hospital Pete Laidlaw, (Mailroom supervisor), and Peter stated he would love to have Derrick work there again but that hospital staff were unionized and there was no job classification whose requirements Derek could meet.

Having earlier built a relationship with SEIU Local 1021 (the local that represented their staff) and knowing about the resolution. They contacted Don Evans, worksite organizer for Local 1021. Don in turn put them in touch with Bernie DeArman, worksite organizer for the hospital from SEIU UHW. EBI staff shared Derrick’s story and a copy of the resolution with Bernie who agreed to meet with the union leadership at the hospital and hospital management. Bernie was able to craft an agreement that created a new special job slot set aside for a worker with a developmental disability.

The hospital had made a commitment that this position would not replace any existing workers. And the union agreed to exempt this position from normal seniority layoff rules. Derek is now a proud union member. He earns $14.50/hr has vacation and health care benefits at his dream job at the local hospital. He has lots of friends there. His fellow employees agree he does a great job and makes his hospital a much better place to work.

There is much more work to do to create not only jobs, but jobs with good wages benefits and advancement opportunities for people with disabilities. We will continue to share our successes here on the blog. If you would like to connect with an SEIU local about how to expand employment opportunities, please contact us here through the website.

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Pay raises should be on the way for DC workers

Thanks to our hard work, DC government just passed regulations saying it will finally implement the Living Wage law we passed in 2004.

This means group home workers in DC should now make $12.50 an hour according to DC law.

Nathaniel Wallace, NCC

Nathaniel Wallace, NCC

“The victory on the living wage is a good thing for us. People like us deserve a better treatment. What we do is more than a job. Taking care of other people is hard.”
Nathaniel Wallace, NCC

Low wages and limited benefits in this field has led to high turnover of workers, and negatively impacted the quality of services for people with disabilities.  This is a huge victory for DC group home workers and we are especially proud of our role in making this happen.

“The living wage victory is a long overdue victory. I’ve been in this industry for more than 11 years and there is no money or good pay. This is really good.” Violate B. Lee, IDI

Violate B. Lee, IDI

Violate B. Lee, IDI

But our work is not done.

Now we have to hold DC government and DC employers accountable to make sure the Living Wage law becomes a reality in our paychecks.

Join Violate, Nathaniel and the  Living Wage Action Team to find out how you can get involved to win better pay.

Are you a group home worker or someone who provided service and supports to people with disabilities?

Are you receiving the $12.50/hr living wage you deserve?  Tell us about it and share your story.

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Governor Patrick Supports Bridgwell Workers’ Right to Organize

Bridgewell workers discuss union campaign and workplace concerns with Governor Patrick

Bridgewell workers discuss union campaign and workplace concerns with Governor Patrick

On Tuesday, the Bridgewell Organizing Committee spoke with Governor Patrick about our campaign and talked about the reasons that we’re forming a union at Bridgewell.

Governor Patrick was concerned as we spoke about putting in years of service with little or no raises, seeing our co-workers unjustly fired, and fearing for our jobs after taking vacation time to visit family back home. The governor reinforced his support for our right to organize without fear and intimidation and wished us luck in our election.

The Governor joins a growing list of elected officials and community leaders, including Lynn City Council, who support our campaign for dignity and respect at Bridgewell.

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Lynn City Council Backs Bridgewell Workers

Resolution Passed Supporting Right to Organize
Originally posted at

Bridgewell workers attend the Lynn City Council meeting

Fifty people, including Bridgewell employees and Lynn community leaders, flooded the Lynn City Council meeting Tuesday night to call on Bridgewell management to respect the rights of its employees to organize freely!

A resolution introduced by Counselor Peter Capano supporting that right, passed unanimously 10-0. As part of the resolution, the council urged Bridgewell to:

  • Allow their employees to choose freely whether to unionize or not, without intimidation or coercion.
  • Abide by their employees’ decision when a majority indicates that it supports union representation.

Read more about the city council’s decision in an article at The Daily Item of Lynn

A strong majority of Bridgewell employees have made their voices clear: they’re standing together for respect and dignity at work. In the coming weeks, workers at Bridgewell will be voting in a union election to join Local 509.
Follow the campaign on Facebook: The Union for Bridgewell Workers

Workers at Bridgewell are not alone in their fight for dignity and respect–  Over 4,000 support service providers in Oregon filed for their election earlier this week; earlier this year Over 500 workers at Sullivan and Associates joined SEIU local 509.   Over 250,000 SEIU members are Supporting People,Supporting Communities, helping people with developmental disabilities or mental health needs live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives as part of their community.  Sign Up here to keep up to date on our efforts to prevent funding cuts to vital human services, give consumers more control over their lives, fight for quality services and high quality jobs for those providing services and supports.

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Support Senate Bill 524

Originally posted at

Write your state senator now in support of SB 524 allowing people in recovery with criminal histories to continue to work in the mental health and addictions field.

In 2009 a law was passed that created a list of permanently disqualifying crimes that would bar any worker with one of these crimes in their past from ever working in many fields including addictions and mental health.

This law impacts hundreds of excellent addictions councilors and mental health workers who themselves are in recovery. There is substantial research indicating that services provided by individuals who are in recovery themselves results in better outcomes for clients. A counselor who has personal experience with addiction or mental illness is better able to relate to their clients and their clients can receive the treatment they need in an environment where they do not feel judged. However, these same effective workers are also more likely to have committed a crime, meaning this bill would result in a substantial loss of qualified and effective mental health and addictions professionals.

Last summer, with your help, we were able to delay implementation of the bill until July 2011 for addictions workers, but we need a permanent fix that includes mental health and addiction workers. There is currently a bill in the Oregon Senate (SB524) which would exempt Mental Health and Addictions workers from the list of permanently disqualifying crimes. Workers with a criminal record would be given a fitness assessment and they would be able to take this assessment with them if they change jobs and are again subject to a background check.

In order for us to permanently fix the legislation passed in 2009 we need your support. Senators are deciding right now if they will support SB 524 and they need to hear from you. Please take some time today to write your Senator telling them why you support frontline Addictions and Mental Health workers and the passage of SB 524.

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Envisioning the Future of Developmental Disability Professionals

As we have seen in the past, Developmental Disability service delivery systems are too often developed without the input of those on the front lines providing services and supports. Right now, we have a unique opportunity to change this.

The Federal Administration on Developmental Disabilities (ADD) is collecting public comment from stakeholders to identify priorities for a 5-year strategic plan. This is our chance to establish the direct support profession as a viable career path with decent wages, benefits, opportunities for growth and training, and other initiatives to recruit, train and retain a workforce that can provide high quality service and supports.

Submit your comments online here.