Tentative agreement makes modest improvements in compensation, but long-term, systemic challenges remain
NORTHAMPTON, MA – Front-line clinicians and crisis workers have reached a contract settlement with management at Clinical & Support Options (CSO), following months of turmoil at the taxpayer-funded provider of mental health and outreach services. In the wake of growing public outcry and calls for action from local and state elected leaders, agency managers came back to the table Tuesday evening for a final session with a Federal Mediator. The resulting tentative agreement, which expires in June of 2018, makes modest improvements in compensation and reimbursements for client-related travel expenses – but leaves challenges related to rising caseloads and turnover rates unsettled.
Subject to ratification by the full union membership at Clinical & Support Options, the tentative agreement offers a 3% annual wage increase for hourly and salaried clinicians and crisis workers, along with a one-time increase of approximately 3% for Fee-for-Service clinicians. Front-line staff will also see increases in mileage reimbursements associated with client care. Agency managers held firm, however, in their demand to increase so-called ‘productivity requirements’ that effectively reduce the amount of time available to devote to each client – a matter clinicians highlight as a major concern.
“This settlement brings long-overdue wage increases to all of us working to improve mental health and crisis services in Western Massachusetts,” said Chassity Crowell-Miller, a Springfield-based outpatient clinician who helped lead the union bargaining team. “But make no mistake about it: we have significant work ahead to ensure the CSO management team respects and values the vital services we provide – and our effort begins anew today.”
The tentative contract agreement caps off nearly a year of discord at the taxpayer-funded agency, as clinicians and crisis workers highlighted what they called management’s refusal to recognize the value of emergency and ongoing mental health services provided at CSO. But it was concerns with high turnover and disruptions to client care – spurred by low wages and rising caseloads – that led to a three-day strike and a host of resolutions from affected communities. While the settlement begins to address compensation concerns, front-line staff at CSO say the offer does little to tackle the agency’s long-term challenges.
“We work every day with some of the most at-risk and vulnerable populations in our communities, and the consistency and continuity of their care is absolutely critical,” said Stephanie Agnew, an Outpatient Clinician from CSO’s Northampton facility. “This is the best offer CSO managers were willing to put on the table, and it is important that the agency return its full focus to our critical mission. But we still have a long way to go to adequately address the workplace challenges that are putting client care at risk.”
More than 350 clinicians and crisis workers at Clinical & Support Options provide vital services to over 14,000 at-risk children and families each year – from emergency mental health interventions and gang violence prevention to sexual abuse trauma and addiction treatment. With operations in Amherst, Athol, Florence, Greenfield, Northampton, Orange, Pittsfield and Springfield, their work is critical to the safety and wellbeing of families in more than 100 cities and towns throughout Western Massachusetts.
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SEIU Local 509 represents more than 18,000 human service workers and educators throughout the commonwealth, including more than 1,000 front-line mental health professionals in Western Massachusetts. SEIU 509 members provide a variety of social services to elders, at-risk children and people with mental illnesses or developmental disabilities — as well as educational opportunities from early learning to higher education. Local 509 is part of the Service Employees International Union, the fastest-growing labor union in the United States. For more information, visit http://seiu509.org.