Columbia Gorge behavioral health workers join AFSCME

By Noah Wass

A group of 112 workers at the Mid-Columbia Center for Living is the latest in a string of behavioral healthcare units to unionize with Oregon AFSCME.

On June 11, AFSCME submitted union cards signed by 70% of the workers to the Oregon Employment Relations Board. That came just one month and six days after workers first contacted the union.

The workers provide mental health and addiction recovery services to residents of Hood River, Wasco, and Sherman counties at clinics in The Dalles, Hood River, and Moro. Unlike at other recent campaigns, which were at non-profit organizations, Mid-Columbia Center for Living workers are public employees — employed by an intergovernmental agency that is overseen by a tri-county board of commissioners.

AFSCME’s campaign at Mid-Columbia Center for Living is part of United We Heal, a nationwide AFSCME effort to organize behavioral healthcare professionals in a sector plagued by high turnover.

The COVID-19 pandemic called for a new set of organizing methods. Union supporter Sarah Smutz said workers held meetings via video chat, and in-person in parks, wearing masks while social distancing.

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