Addiction and Crisis Workers Threaten Strike

Northampton, MA-

Clinical and Support Options union representative says strike could result if action is not taken.

Two weeks before McDonald’s workers plan to walk-out of their jobs, in an effort to earn $15 per hour, front-line mental health workers in Massachusetts attempt to raise awareness of their own underpaid and stressful working conditions.

Shannon Gamble, one of about 150 CSO workers to rally outside of CSO’s headquarters in Northampton on Wednesday morning, with representatives of each of the agency’s five locations present—Pittsfield, Amherst, Athol, Greenfield and Northampton—says the rally is intended to, “raise awareness and to let CSO know that we’re not happy with the meager pickings that they’re throwing at us and to also bring it to the public’s attention that the working conditions that we work under are not acceptable.”

Providing out-patient services for addicts, an important service in light of the recent heroin epidemic in Western Massachusetts, is often times done without pay, as Gamble says, “we’re dealing with it everyday, and yet we don’t get paid if people don’t show up. So, we’re working with addicts, of course their going to show up some days and not other days. We don’t get paid if they don’t show up.”

Gamble left the interview to attend to a patient in Athol, and Rhonda Shapiro-Rieser elaborated on the poor pay. Shapiro-Rieser has a long list of expensive degrees and certificates, “I have a Master’s Degree, I have a Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Direction, I have a Graduate’s Certificate of Autism Spectrum Disorders; I found out that I make less money than my son—with no degree at all—when he was a shift manager for a parking valet firm. He made more money than me and got better benefits.”

One of the complaints of the union is that the productivity demands on salaried workers have increased, in the guise of bonuses and benefits, which are difficult to meet. Shapiro-Rieser says meeting the increased productivity demands depends largely on the responsibility of the clients, who are “not good about getting it together.” With many drug addict clients, service workers go without pay far too often, and if productivity drops below CSO’s guidelines, workers will be reduced to part-time employment.

The union wants better pay, and productivity demands lowered. Shapiro-Rieser said the CSO has a bonus program, but she only knew of one person who ever qualified for a bonus, at the expense of not taking any vacation or sick days for an entire year.

Representing CSO workers, SEIU Local 509 Director of Communications, Jason Stephany says 250 of a possible 350 front-line CSO workers signed a letter to Clinical and Support Options Chief Executive Officer, Karin Jeffers, in which they claim clinicians and support staff with Master’s Degrees often make less than $35,000 per year and “those with Bachelor’s Degrees in social work or other certifications make less than $15.00 per hour.” Or, a little more than current fast-food workers, who have the nation’s junk-food eaters bracing for a possible fair resolution to their demands.

Stephany says a strike is not eminent, however, “In the coming weeks workers are going to do whatever they can to raise awareness of the challenges that they face and the impact that those challenges have on the services they provide in the community. And that could include a strike.”

A measure that extreme would have to be voted upon by the CSO union workers. “Front-line workers certainly would hope that it doesn’t come to a strike” said Stephany. He cited time and continuation of care as the two most important things which front-line workers value, and that the current working conditions hamper these critical aspects of social work.

The CSO’s productivity requirements for clinicians impacts the amount of time they can spend on each patient, which, says Stephany, could be the difference between successful intervention and tragedy. He says the poor wage for these highly qualified clinicians leads to high turnover, and ultimately disrupts the continuity of care.

The rally was broken up by the presence of two tow trucks, which appeared ready to tow any one of the dozen illegally parked cars of picketers. They did not tow any vehicles, and the building manager, not the CSO Management, were the ones who called the trucks to the demonstration.

In other news, fast-food workers will hold a demonstration as close to Northampton as Hartford, CT, where they will also demand more money.

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One thought on “Addiction and Crisis Workers Threaten Strike

  1. I have a Master’s Degree from Smith College (MSW) with more debt than I make in a two year period! Student loan companies want blood and don’t care if you make a living wage. I receive phone calls from the lovely, “Mrs. _____” saying “No, we can’t accept (payment amount that I can afford), but we will accept (payment that is a quarter of my monthly salary)” I can hardly live off of what i make already… it’s discouraging to say the least!

    While I also worked for CSO , and agree fully that the salaries wer/ are low. They were also low at the “competitor” non-profit agency! As somebody who hired others, it was embarassing to offer such little pay for such hard work! Not to mention the productivity requirements…. It’s 100% true, if your client doesn’t show, you don’t get paid. Thus, you are also not meeting your productivity.

    I left CSO for “greener pastures” of a school system where I face a slew of the same issues! I admire the work done by CSO and I refer families there, hands down, because I believe in them and I know how hard the dedicated staff work! But, like every profession, there’s good clinicians and others… well, they have room for improvement! 😉 The work we do fighting addiction and combating mental health issues in the wake of continued budget cuts (national), budget freezes (state), and towns refusing to pass school budgets is thankless and exhausting! However, it is rewarding and I wouldn’t change my career path for ANYTHING!

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