By Chapter President, Dennis MacDonald
“…it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the Spring of hope, it was the Winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”
These words from Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, written over 150 years ago, could just as easily have been written by any of our private sector field reps if they were to describe what contract bargaining has been like in 2011. Unlike 2008, when over 92% of the members amongst twenty agencies voted to go on strike, this year, we had thirty-one contracts to negotiate. Progress at many of the agencies is at a standstill; as we go to press, there will have been a dozen or more rallies and pickets aimed at trying to secure more money, better health care plans and other benefits for the lowest paid members of Local 509. At the most difficult negotiations, agencies have frozen step increases, i.e. no raises, and simultaneously tried to force their workers to accept health care plans with drastically higher co-pays and/or high deductibles. For some workers, health insurance will become completely unaffordable, forcing them to apply for Mass Health. Some agencies have offered bonuses instead of raises as a cost-cutting measure or, at best, halved their raises, from 1.5% to 0.75%. When a worker typically earns $11 per hour, that 0.75% totals a whopping $171.60 per year for full time employees. At some of these same agencies, members are expected to use their cars to drive hundreds of miles every month at a reimbursement rate twelve cents or more below the IRS rate; there is no car allowance.
Not all is doom and gloom in the private sector. On May 10, 2011, over 700 human services workers at Bridgewell, based in Lynn and the Merrimack Valley, overwhelmingly won their election to form a union. Back on December 16, 2010, over 500 workers from Sullivan & Associates (now Guidewire), based in Springfield, Pittsfield and Worcester, voted to form a union. We welcome our new Sisters and Brothers.
In the past two years, Local 509’s Organizing Department has been a bonfire of activity, also leading successful organizing campaigns for the Brien Center (the Berkshires), HEC/CES (statewide) and Delta Projects (mostly south central MA), increasing our ranks by close to 800 members. Once our Sisters and Brothers at Guidewire and Bridgewell ratify contracts, the private sector will have grown by over 2,000 members since 2009