First union contract for behavioral health workers in the Columbia Gorge

By COLIN STAUB

Employees of the Mid-Columbia Center for Living will see raises and better health coverage under their first contract as members of AFSCME Local 1790. 

The agency provides mental health and addiction recovery services to residents of Hood River, Wasco, and Sherman counties at clinics in The Dalles, Hood River, and Moro.

Base pay will increase by 7%, and the center’s 72 union-represented workers will receive a $1,000 bonus. They’ll also get a 3% raise in both July 2023 and July 2024. Their health plan will have a lower deductible with more coverage.

The contract adds a 5% pay differential for bilingual employees, creates a labor-management committee, and increases sick leave accrual based on longevity.

The agreement comes after 16 months of negotiating. Union members and the Tri-County Mental Health Board, which oversees Mid-Columbia Center for Living, ratified the contract December 17, AFSCME announced on Feb. 28.

Mid-Columbia Center for Living was part of a wave of behavioral health providers to unionize through AFSCME’s United We Heal campaign. In 2020, 70% of Mid-Columbia Center for Living workers submitted union cards, which under state law means the union is recognized without an election. (That came despite management distributing anti-union fliers and talking points, which is illegal for public employers in Oregon and cost Mid-Columbia Center for Living roughly $43,000 in penalties and fees).  It became the largest public sector organizing win of the year.

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