Last night, the Massachusetts Senate passed budget amendment #300, which would protect frontline social workers at the Department of Children and Families (DCF) from having their personal information, including their home address, publicly exposed. The following statement is attributable to Adriana Zwick, a social worker and SEIU Local 509 DCF Chapter President:
“Social workers at DCF dedicate their careers to keeping at-risk kids safe from abuse and neglect, and unfortunately, it can be a dangerous profession. Too often in the course of our work, social workers are forced to provide personal information, like our home address, when we visit our clients in hospitals, correctional facilities, or schools. Being forced to provide our personal information poses a safety risk to social workers and their families.
“If passed into law, this measure would keep social workers’ personal information personal and help protect their safety by allowing the use of state issued identification when carrying out DCF work. We are grateful to Senator Tarr for sponsoring this amendment and Chairwoman Spilka for her work on it. We urge the conference committee to include it in its final budget.”
Hundreds of Local 509 members at DCF wrote and called their Senators yesterday to urge the passage of this important amendment.
‘UNION YES’ vote by Tufts is SEIU’s second Boston-area graduate student unionization win in the last three weeks
Boston, MA — Graduate students at Tufts University have overwhelmingly voted to form a union, deciding by a wide margin to join SEIU Local 509. Tufts graduate students are just the latest Boston-area educators to join SEIU 509 Faculty Forward, which currently represents nearly 4,000 non-tenure-track and adjunct faculty in the area. Graduate student workers at Tufts join their part-time lecturer and full-time non-tenure track colleagues as members of Local 509.
“Coming together to form a union gives Tufts graduate students a clear way to make sure all of us are compensated and treated fairly,” said Anna Phillips, Ph.D. student in Physics at Tufts. “I am proud of today’s win and looking forward to graduate students having a seat at the table for decisions that impact our ability to do the teaching and research that we love.”
The vote at Tufts represents the second successful graduate student unionization vote at a private institution in the Boston area since the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)’s August 2016 ruling to allow grad student workers at private institutions to unionize. Graduate students at Brandeis University voted to join SEIU Local 509 on May 2.
“Creating a union allows us not only to advocate for ourselves, but to build understanding across departments and disciplines at Tufts about graduate student working conditions,” said James Rizzi, Ph.D. candidate in English at Tufts. “Today’s election is a win for current graduate students and lays the foundation for those who come after us to build upon.”
The election occurred by mail, and votes were counted today at the Boston office of the National Labor Relations Board. To arrange an interview with Tufts graduate students leading the movement to unionize, contact Christie Stephenson: (413) 374-6370.
The below op-ed highlighting the need to limit clawbacks on mental health services, signed by a leader of 509’s CliniciansUNITED campaign, ran in Commonwealth Magazine.
IMAGINE BEING WORRIED sick, struggling to find a mental health clinician to treat your 12-year-old child who is so anxious that he has not been able to go to school for two weeks. You’ve called dozens of private mental health clinicians and treatment centers, day after day, only to hear that they are full and not accepting new patients.
Imagine being a new mother suffering postpartum depression, unable to care for your infant, and unable to get treatment.
Both of these situations are unimaginable tragedies, yet increasingly common here in the Commonwealth, as affordable access to mental health and substance abuse services continues to decline. Perhaps even more tragic is that health insurance company practices are partially responsible for this situation.
One of the major problems clinicians have to deal with is retroactive claims denials, also called clawbacks. Insurance companies can recoup their payments to a clinician months, or even years, after a therapy session takes place and is paid for. Therapists secure prior approval from health insurance companies before treating their patients, and then have to adhere to billing deadlines (usually 60 or 90 days after each session takes place). No similar deadline exists for insurance companies.
Most of the clawback stories we have heard involve insurance companies discovering months – or more often, years – after the fact that they were not actually the insurance of record when the treatment took place. So, even though the therapist called the insurance to make sure their new client was eligible for service, and even though the insurance authorized the treatment, and even though the therapist was paid for the service by the insurance company – still, months or years later, the insurance company might discover they had made a mistake and demand the money back.Insurance companies are also able to demand to see all of a clinician’s files for a particular client, and can recoup payment if the files do not follow their particular guidelines. It’s like if your employer could take back paychecks you deposited years ago, just because you forgot to endorse the checks.
Handling insurance for MassHealth members has additional complications, and this makes it difficult to treat those very patients for whom the Commonwealth needs to expand access to mental health services.
One colleague of ours in private practice received a letter in the mail from an insurer, demanding $27,000 back. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that amount is over half of the median salary of mental health practitioners and counselors. Clawbacks have led to gaping budget holes for the more than 80 community-based mental health and treatment provider organizations in Massachusetts. One South Shore center recently reported clawbacks totaling over $137,000.
The fear of an insurance company retroactively demanding such massive payments has a chilling effect on private mental health clinicians and treatment centers alike – many of which are small businesses. When we discuss the many factors driving down access to mental health care in our state, look no further than these business practices. They are effective, subtle ways for insurance companies to deny critical behavioral health care.
Massachusetts must join over half of the country in passing legislation to protect health care providers from this practice of clawbacks. This session, state Rep. James O’Day and Sen. Michael Rodrigues have introduced a measure that would limit insurance companies to a six-month period for recovering payments for services already completed. It is a critical step toward addressing the grossly unfair business practice of clawbacks and leveling the playing field between mental health clinicians and insurance companies. Insurances should have to adhere to the same timelines and rules that they require of providers.
Our colleagues provide crucial mental health and substance abuse services day-in and day-out, in good faith and in accordance with the best insurance information available to them at the time. Insurance companies routinely violate this good faith and the spirit of our laws when they claw back payments from providers.
Massachusetts can and must do better if we are to address the crisis in access to mental health and substance abuse care.
Erica Kirsners, LICSW, is a clinician and social worker in Brookline. She is a Co-Chair of CliniciansUNITED Executive Committee, a campaign of SEIU Local 509.Vicker DiGravio is the President and CEO of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare, a statewide association representing more than 80 community-based mental health and addiction treatment provider organizations.
Bill limiting insurance clawbacks is key step toward addressing access to mental health care
BOSTON, MA – Today, private mental health clinicians organized through SEIU Local 509’s CliniciansUNITED campaign are testifying before the Joint Committee on Financial Services in favor of legislation to limit retroactive claims denials by insurance companies. This practice, known as clawbacks, is in effect a subtle way for insurance companies to deny critical behavioral health care.
Currently, insurance companies can recoup their payments to a clinician months, or even years, after a therapy session takes place and is paid for, even though therapists secure prior approval from health insurance companies before treating their patients, and then adhere to billing deadlines (usually 60 or 90 days after each session takes place). No similar deadline exists for insurance companies. As a result, companies have demanded that private mental health clinicians pay back thousands of dollars for services rendered years ago in good faith.
The financial burden and uncertainty created by unlimited clawbacks has a chilling effect on therapists and is a limiting factor on their ability to treat patients. More and more clinicians are choosing to leave insurance panels because they find the requirements, the reimbursement rates, and retroactive claims denials too difficult to accept. If there are fewer therapists accepting insurance, people seeking mental health and substance abuse services have a harder time finding qualified therapists to work with at fees they can afford.
“In order to tackle the crisis in access to affordable mental health care, we have to address the insurance practices that are limiting providers’ ability to treat their patients,” said Erica Kirsners, a clinician and social worker in Brookline. “We clinicians treat our patients in good faith and in accordance with the insurance information we have. Insurance companies should also have to act in this good faith and in the spirit of our mental health access laws.”
CliniciansUNITED supports legislation introduced by Representative Jim O’Day and Senator Michael Rodrigues (H.2193/S.582) that would limit insurance companies to a six-month window for retroactive claims denials.
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CliniciansUNITED is a multidisciplinary group of behavioral health clinicians who are associate members of the Massachusetts Human Service Workers Union, SEIU Local 509. Together, we are fighting to ensure each and every Bay State resident has access to quality, affordable mental health services — and to bring about the fair reimbursement policies and practices needed to make universal access possible.
Brandeis’ part-time faculty, members of SEIU Local 509, have reached their first-ever contract with the Brandeis administration. Among the historic gains in the contract, highlights include:
Equally historic, the university and SEIU Local 509 released a joint statement regarding the contract (below). To arrange interviews with faculty involved in the contract bargaining, call (413) 374-6370.
For immediate release
May 10, 2017
Brandeis University and Part-Time Faculty Ratify Contract
Three-year agreement with SEIU Local 509 improves wages and teaching conditions for more than 280 faculty at the Waltham campus
WALTHAM, MA – Part-time faculty at Brandeis University have ratified a three-year contract with the university, the first since part-time faculty formed a union with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 509 in December 2015. The contract addresses improvements in job security, compensation, and professional development. It also represents a key step toward ensuring increased participation of part-time faculty in discussions that affect their work. The agreement is the result of a negotiation process between Brandeis administrators and SEIU Local 509 that was characterized by mutual respect and collegiality.
In a joint statement in the agreement, Brandeis and the union said:
“The Union and the University value and respect the role of the Faculty Members covered by this Agreement as essential contributors to a learning community. Our relationship is characterized by a spirit of professionalism, collegiality, civility, and cooperation toward a common objective of providing an exceptional educational experience for the University’s students.
We believe in communication, mutual respect, and meaningful involvement of part-time Faculty Members in working towards this common objective. The Union recognizes and supports the commitment of the University to provide the best in educational opportunities to all students. The University recognizes and respects the Union’s commitment to advocating for the interests of its members.”
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The President of Local 509’s Family Child Care chapter, Celina Reyes, wrote a letter to the editor that was featured in the Boston Globe this week. In the letter, Celina responds to a recent story highlighting the child care affordability crisis in the Commonwealth, and notes that family child care providers themselves often struggle to make ends meet. Our recent contract win with EEC to raise rates for providers is a key step toward making sure taking care of the Commonwealth’s neediest children can be a sustainable career. As Celina writes:
That’s why I fought through my union, SEIU Local 509, for a contract with the Department of Early Education and Care that raises these rates; our members just overwhelmingly ratified the historic agreement. It’s just a first step, but a momentous one, as it will get us closer to ending the tension between our need to care for our own families and our work caring for the Commonwealth’s neediest children.
Click here to read the full letter.
509 educators testifying today in favor of expanding access to early childhood and higher education
BOSTON, MA – Educators and members of SEIU Local 509, the Bay State union for human service workers and educators, are on Beacon Hill today to show support for An Act to Support Educational Opportunity for All during today’s hearing by the Joint Committee on Revenue. The bill would provide much-needed funds to expand access to early childhood education and enable more young people to pursue higher education — both critical priorities for the Commonwealth’s continued economic growth and prosperity.
In order to fund these critical investments in education, the bill includes a modest 2.5 percent duty on private college and university endowments with over $1 billion in assets under management. Nonprofit private colleges and universities are not currently required to pay local, state, or federal taxes on their endowment funds. The excise — which would only impact a handful of the Commonwealth’s richest institutions — would create a new Educational Opportunity for All Trust to help defray the cost of higher education, early education, and child care for lower-income and middle-class residents of the Commonwealth.
“As an early childhood educator, I know firsthand that we badly need to invest more in the Commonwealth’s youngest children during the influential, early years of their education,” said Marites MacLean, a member of SEIU 509 who operates a family child care center in Fitchburg. “But more than that, I see that when we are able to help working class families access child care, it allows them to attend school and work themselves and further contribute to our economy and society.”
“There is overwhelming evidence that we need to invest more in both early education and higher education, but too often these investments are forgone due to scarce budgets and competing priorities,” said Tyler O’Day, a graduating senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Asking the wealthiest institutions to contribute a modest amount toward expanding access to higher education is a commonsense way to make sure all students can access the kind of world class education I’ve been lucky enough to pursue.”
MacLean and O’Day joined leaders from the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) to share their expertise and testify in front of the Joint Committee on Revenue in favor of the bill. SEIU Local 509 regularly empowers its diverse, statewide membership to speak out in favor of key legislation that impacts their day to day work as educators and human service workers. Last month, Local 509 held its largest-ever Lobby Day at the State House, where union members spoke with their elected officials about the issues facing them as they educate and care for the Commonwealth’s students and most vulnerable populations.
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SEIU Local 509 represents nearly 20,000 human service workers and educators throughout the Commonwealth. 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.
Graduate students at Tufts University also set to vote on unionization in the coming weeks
Waltham, MA — Graduate students at Brandeis University have overwhelmingly voted to form a union, deciding by a two to one margin to join SEIU Local 509. Brandeis graduate students with teaching responsibilities are just the latest Boston-area educators to join SEIU 509 Faculty Forward, which currently represents nearly 4,000 non-tenure-track and adjunct faculty in the area.
“Given the role that graduate student workers play in teaching at Brandeis, we deserve a seat at the table,” said Diana Filar, a, English PhD candidate at Brandeis. “Today’s vote to form a union opens the door to negotiations with the administration to ensure that it focuses on our professional development and training as educators.”
The vote at Brandeis represents the first successful graduate student unionization vote at a private institution in the Boston area since the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)’s August 2016 ruling to allow grad student workers at private institutions to unionize.
“This win is an opportunity to address labor concerns with the administration and frees us and our professors to focus on our academic and research goals. It provides us with an assurance that we can address concerns on an equal footing with the university, without fear of retaliation. Our work suffers when we can’t address our needs, and both we and the university share the common goal of doing our best work,” said Anna Henkin, a PhD candidate in Biochemistry and Biophysics at Brandeis.
The election occurred at Brandeis University on Tuesday, May 2nd, and votes were counted immediately following the election at the election site. Graduate student workers at Tufts University will also hold a unionization vote this month. To arrange an interview with Brandeis graduate students leading the movement to unionize, contact Christie Stephenson: (413) 374-6370.
SEIU Local 509 represents nearly 20,000 human service workers and educators throughout the commonwealth, including nearly 4,000 part- and full-time faculty in the Greater Boston area. 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.
On April 2, 2017, we lost one of our most active union members from the Private Sector Human Services Chapter, Lisa Silva Goncalves. She was an officer on the Joint Executive Board, a single mom of two young girls who, at 37, is gone far too soon after a single car crash. In 2011, Lisa was one of the primary leaders in the organizing effort at her DDS agency, Sullivan & Associates, which later became known as Guidewire. She demonstrated deep compassion for her clients, though it was her advocacy for her co-workers that truly distinguished Lisa’s legacy as a union leader. She was on the contract bargaining teams, and joined the Local 509 JEB shortly after ratification of their first contract. Lisa took time away from her direct care work in the group home to volunteer work as a Member Political Organizer, and she even filled in as a field representative when her field rep was briefly sidelined. As an active steward, she could always be relied upon to handle grievances and attend investigatory meetings. Lisa was committed to bettering the working lives of her co-workers, traveling from the Springfield area to Beacon Hill to testify or lobby on various House Bills.
As recently as February 2017, Lisa re-dedicated herself to working on passage of a bill that would provide for an appeals process for DDS and DMH Private Sector workers who have had a DPPC (Disabled Person’s Protection Commission) charge filed against them which was substantiated, even though the accused may be innocent. Lisa drew on her own experience with an unfair DPPC charge to champion this important legislation.
Lisa had an infectious beaming smile and a hearty laugh that belied her true joie de vivre. She was loved by her Sisters and Brothers on the Private Sector Chapter Executive Board and is greatly missed by many. It’s a testament to Lisa’s lasting impact on the lives of others that the JEB, the PSHS CEB and the Local 509 Staff Union have contributed thousands to a fund that will support her two daughters.
Members wishing to make a contribution to Lisa’s children, Imani and Nadia Doyle, may do so by sending it directly in their name to:
Luso Federal Credit Union c/o Scott Ganhao
599 East Street
Ludlow, MA 01056