By Don McIntosh
More than a year after workers at the Oregon chapter of Volunteers of America (VOA) voted 46 to 3 to join Oregon AFSCME, they still don’t have a first union contact. The roughly 65 workers staff two residential alcohol and drug treatment facilities in Portland where addicts undergo six months of court-ordered treatment.
VOA executive director Kay Toran has opposed the union from the beginning. She hired lawyers, and tried but failed to talk workers out of unionizing. Then to represent VOA in contract bargaining she brought in Jim Frazer, a negotiator associated with many bitter labor disputes over the last few decades. In bargaining sessions, Frazer refers to VOA as “the company.”
“That shows he really doesn’t understand the difference between non-profit mission and a for-profit company,” says Oregon AFSCME Executive Director Stacy Chamberlain, who heads the union bargaining team.
In bargaining, VOA has adopted a “right-to-work” posture: Insisting that the bargaining unit be a open shop, in which workers wouldn’t be required to join or pay dues to the union that represents them.
VOA has rejected a union wage scale that pays all workers equally based on what they do and how long they’ve been doing it. Instead VOA proposes to give managers extraordinary latitude over starting pay, which would then be locked in going forward. Cost-of-living increases would also be at the discretion of the board, which would give raises if there’s money left in the budget at the end of the year.
VOA also emailed all employees, union and nonunion, announcing a 3 percent cost-of-living raise, then emailed union employees back to say they would not be getting the raise.
VOA even broke federal law. Residential counselors, the most numerous and poorly paid job category, were making $10 to $12 an hour when workers voted to unionize last September. VOA later announced they would get raises of $3 an hour — without discussing or bargaining that with the union. The National Labor Relations Board found that violated federal labor law, because the point of having a union is to be able to negotiate over terms and conditions, not have those decisions determined by management with no say-so. VOA settled the case, and agreed to post a notice promising not to do it again.
The two sides began negotiating with the help of a mediator in mid-November. They will next meet on Dec. 6.
AFSCME represents Volunteers of America employees in New York and New Jersey, as well as workers in Portland at Central City Concern, Transition Projects, and Janus Youth Programs who do similar work.
HELP VOA WORKERS GET A DEAL: Show support for the workers at Volunteers of America and learn more about their fight at a community forum organized by Oregon AFSCME: Dec. 9 at 4 p.m. at St Francis is Assisi Catholic Church. 1131 SE Oak St, Portland Oregon.