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.
SEIU members across the country have been calling and emailing their Senators to reject the radical Ryan budget plan passed by the House of Representatives last month. The plan included massive cuts to Medicaid services for 8 million Americans with disabilities in order to pay for tax cuts to corporations and millionaires. In a stunning rebuke of the radical proposals of Representative Ryan, the Senate voted down the Ryan Budget Plan yesterday. SEIU President Mary Kay Henry released this statement last night:
“Voters across America have been telling Congressional Republicans to focus on creating good jobs and to keep their hands off their healthcare and retirement security. Today’s vote is another indication that any budget that guts Medicare and Medicaid while extending tax giveaways to millionaires and corporations is unacceptable to the American people.
“We cannot simply cut our way to a budget solution. We need to create revenue by making corporations pay their fair share and by putting people back to work. Members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, need to listen to Main Street and do their jobs. That should start by working to create good jobs for the more than 13 million Americans who need them.”
Our work is not done. We still need a budget that protects vital human services, like Medicaid, for the Americans with disabilities who depend on them to live independent lives as part of their community. Around the country SEIU members are working with disability advocates and community partners to call for a budget that reflects the reflects our values on Main Street, not a corporations bottom line on Wall Street. Sign-up here to stay involved in our fight to preserve Medicaid funding.
Put People First!
On April 7, more than 500 community mental health workers and long-term caregivers, members of SEIU Healthcare 1199NW and 775NW, rallied at the state capitol in Olympia, WA. The healthcare workers urged legislators to protect essential mental health, disability care and low-income housing programs by closing tax loopholes benefiting banks and wealthy corporations.
After protesting outside a Chase Bank branch, union members occupied the State Capitol rotunda for several hours; sixteen members of local 775NW staged a nonviolent sit-in outside Governor Gregoire’s office and were arrested by Capitol police. By the end of the day, the Governor agreed to meet with a delegation of healthcare workers, who delivered the same message: balancing the state budget solely by cutting social and human services is immoral. Before cutting services, we must close tax loopholes benefiting Wall Street banks and other wealthy interests.
The action at the state capitol is part of a broad effort to protect vital human services in Washington. Proposed budget cuts would leave 27,000 Washington kids without healthcare and tens of thousands of people with mental illness are losing housing and services. Meanwhile, legislators are giving away millions in tax breaks to corporate chicken farms for warm chicken bedding, $5 million a year to private jet owners, and $100 million a year to Wall Street Banks.
In March, 1199NW President Diane Sosne, RN, MN, brought the twisted priorities of the state to life with an Op-Ed published in the Olympian when she described the differences between Bill and a chicken. Bill suffers from mental illness and chemical dependency, but thanks to a vital program Disability Lifeline, he has been able to get on his feet. Unfortunately, as Diane writes, Bill’s needs are not as important as a chicken:
…last fall the state cut monthly Disability Lifeline payments from $339 to $258. Bill could no longer afford to rent his apartment, and began sleeping on the street. Without the support he needed, he relapsed, found himself in jail, then ended up in an intensive inpatient treatment facility.
Now about those chickens: Ten years ago, the state Legislature passed a special tax break to benefit a few dozen factory farms that raise chickens. There’s a tax break on bedding – wood shavings, sawdust, straw, shredded paper – and another tax break for natural gas to heat the barns so the birds can stay warm. All told, these tax breaks cost Washington $4.5 million over the last four years. With the state facing a $5 billion deficit, it’s time for the corporate chicken farms to pay their fair share.
We’ve got our work cut out for us in state houses like Washington across the US. SEIU members are standing with people with disabilities and mental health needs to protect human services, not tax breaks for corporations and millionaires. Sign-up here to stay up to date on our in WA and across the US.
Originally posted at seiu509.org
Local 509 members advocate for safer working conditions and a living wage
Over the last few weeks hundreds of Local 509 members have braved the cold to join together in rallies across the state. With chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, unsafe staffing’s got to go!” we brought the message to the public that while human service work is important to our communities, it is often not given the respect and dignity that it deserves. At each of the rallies, union members and allies from the community spoke of the often unsafe working conditions and inadequate pay that private-sector human service workers face in Massachusetts. A special thanks goes out to the numerous 509 public-sector members who attended and spoke in support of their union sisters and brothers in the private -sector.
The rallies kicked off with a mid-day gathering in front of the Malden Center MBTA station on Tuesday. Speakers from Massachusetts Advocates Standing Strong (MASS), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Greater Boston Labor Council, and a number of other community allies joined our private and public sector members to support human service workers.
Wednesday’s rally brought us to Lincoln Square in downtown Worcester at rush hour. As in Malden, there was tremendous turnout from SEIU Local 509 members and our community allies, including a strong contingent from MPower. Amidst numerous waves and car-horn honks of support, State Senator Michael Moore as well as representatives from MASS and MPower, spoke passionately in support of the hard work that human service workers do for the people of our state.
Continuing west, Springfield was the next stop on our tour of the commonwealth. Along with the 509 private- and public-sector members who staged the rally, representatives from Western Mass Jobs With Justice and the UAW stood with us to support human service workers in the Pioneer Valley.
In addition to the many passers-by, our message was also spread throughout Western Massachusetts with news reports airing that night on WWLP-22 (click here to watch), CBS 3 Springfield (click here to watch), and WGGB-6, and a radio broadcast on WFCR.
Our rallies concluded with a trip to New Bedford on Friday. With support from the Greater Southeastern Massachusetts Labor Council and other community allies, our members made a strong showing in front of City Hall. In fact, after the rally a group of 509 members were invited inside to meet with Mayor Scott Lang as well as a group of the local State Representatives and State Senators to discuss the issues facing human service workers in their community. We would like to thank the mayor and the state delegation for taking the time to listen to our concerns.
With a week of successful rallies bringing attention to our cause, the private-sector members of Local 509 are now organizing for the upcoming contract campaigns at a number of our facilities. In order to make sure that human service workers are treated with dignity and respect, we’re taking our fight for safe staffing and a living-wage to the State House and local legislators around the state.
Last week hundreds of providers of disability services and supports flocked to Salem for a Lobby day to protect the clients they provide service and supports to from looming budget cuts. Not everyone was able to attend in person, but through the magic of technology they were able to deliver their message via video to their representatives. Check out some of these powerful stories from providers all across Oregon talking about the impact budget cuts would have on the clients they serve.
When Jerry Brown replaced Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California, he inherited a state with a $26 billion deficit and near financial collapse. In response, Governor Brown proposed a mix of tax extensions and budget cuts to close the deficit and position California to rebuild. Among the painful cuts proposed, people with developmental disabilities were targeted with reductions of over 20% of their services.
The member leaders of the California SEIU DD Council rallied to the defense of the people they serve. We called an emergency meeting to develop a winning strategy and tactics to protect the services our consumers need.
We worked in the large DD coalition with advocates, consumer and family groups, provider organizations, and others to discuss strategy and messaging for the DD community. We testified at key legislative hearings and lobbied. We wrote their legislators and newspapers. We reached out to advocates and provider groups all across California to plan rallies and other actions together.
In my part of the state, we held a rally at the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse and got some excellent media coverage during the evening news.
The outpouring of concern from the California DD community was overwhelming. As more people become aware of the threat to services, more people began to show up. The February 10 Senate hearing on the DD budget witnessed one of the largest crowds ever to show up for a hearing in the state’s history. The hearing room overflowed, the overflow rooms overflowed, the Capitol Police had to close off part of the Capitol because of the throngs of people with developmental disabilities, their families, providers and direct support workers. People came and spoke their truth. And they were heard.
A week later, the Legislature dramatically reduced the level of cuts to the DD system.
Assemblywoman Holly Mitchel (D-Los Angeles) highlighted the powerful impact the testimonies and rallies had on the Legislature.
“You can see flat statistics on a piece of paper,” Mitchell said, “but then you hear a mother talk about ‘I am a parent of an adult with a developmental disability, and my husband and I lay awake at night wondering what will happen.’ … I truly believe all of those witnesses and the thousands of witness communications we received made a significant difference.”
Now our members are focused on working with the Administration on minimizing the damage from the remaining budget reductions and in fighting to support the Governor’s revenue package – so deeper cuts can be avoided. We are proud to have done our share in protecting the rights of people with developmental disabilities and the services they rely on.