Union fever spreading at Cascadia Behavioral Health

By Don McIntosh

Two more units of mental health and addiction treatment workers are headed for a union vote. Oregon AFSCME on Dec. 6 asked the National Labor Relations Board to conduct a union election among 196 employees who staff Portland-area residential treatment facilities for nonprofit Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare. A separate vote is scheduled to wrap up Dec. 27 for a unit of 23 workers at Rockwood Respite, another residential treatment facility run by Cascadia.

Those union drives come after a union win last year, when 270 Cascadia workers who staff five outpatient clinics and a mobile mental health crisis response team voted to join AFSCME. Those workers are still bargaining a first union contract. If workers at two more units vote to unionize, bargaining would likely take place all together for a contract to cover all 489 workers.

When their contract is ratified, they’ll become members of AFSCME Local 1790, which currently represents workers at three private non-profits: Volunteers of America, Janus Youth Service, and Basic Rights Oregon.

AFSCME’s campaign at Cascadia is part of United We Heal,  a larger effort to improve conditions industry-wide in the sector known as behavioral health, which includes treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Oregon AFSCME spokesperson David Kreisman said workers are turning to the union because they love their work and want to be able to stay in long term.

“In all of these behavioral health nonprofits, turnover is really high because of a lack of benefits and pay that isn’t on par with a living wage,” Kreisman said. “With high turnover, if a client is going through trauma and builds rapport and trust with a worker, and that worker has to move on for financial reasons, that affects patient outcomes.”

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