INDIANAPOLIS—Motivated by union victories at Amazon and Starbucks, my colleagues and I at Step-Up, a social service agency here, decided it was time to demand representation and democracy in our workplace.
Step-Up’s 23 social workers and case managers provide care coordination, case management and mental health counseling to clients living with HIV and AIDS as well as people returning to the community after incarceration. . Our jobs involve everything from individual and group therapy in mental health treatment to coordinating medical appointments and helping community members obtain affordable housing and job training.
As a licensed clinical social worker in rehabilitation services, my job requires me to provide individual and group therapy to clients with a wide range of mental health diagnoses. In addition to advising the 30 clients on my caseload, I also perform all the same case management tasks as my colleagues. In addition to direct services, i.e. services that I provide directly to or on behalf of my clients, I also assist with community outreach to other service organizations and writing applications for grant. On top of all of these things, we all have to complete continuing education hours to keep our license.
On June 14, our organizing committee submitted our opinion requesting the voluntary recognition of our union to the management of the NPO.
Ana Cooper, who works as a non-medical case manager and is a member of the organizing committee, believes the workers have been inspired by organizing campaigns across the country. “It’s a new world we live in and we’re living in truly revolutionary times in the workforce,” she said. Ana assists community members with insurance, housing assistance, job skills, access to food, coordinating appointments, and transportation. She also spends a lot of time documenting everything she does in each client’s electronic medical record.
Ana’s job requires 37.5 billing hours each week. This is a requirement for all agency non-medical case managers. This equates to the number of hours worked as full-time employees at Step-Up each week. We all have increasing workloads and hourly billing quotas.
Our agency has recently experienced an increase in turnover due to low salaries and poor benefits. Several care coordination and case management positions remained vacant, which increased the workload of my colleagues. Despite the increase in responsibilities, there has been no increase in remuneration.
Health care costs are rising, no worker input into the plan
Earlier this year, management implemented changes to insurance benefits that increased costs for employees.
Our additional costs are due to a change in the effective date of the new policy. Many of us who had reached our deductible last year would have had medical expenses covered until the end of the year, but a new policy chosen by the President and CEO of Step-Up came into effect. force two months earlier, in November. There was no staff input.
The new deductible year didn’t start until January 1, so the medical bills we paid for two months didn’t count towards the deductible. The new health care plan is exceptionally expensive for those of us with families. Higher deductibles and office visit co-payments that don’t go toward the deductible, cause many of us to spend a large portion of our paychecks on medications, doctor visits and medical care. hospital and children’s health coverage.
Maternity leave is another issue for new parents in our agency. After Abby Foltz, a non-medical case manager who has worked at Step-Up for four years, gave birth to her daughter in November last year, she was not paid for a month. “I was told I could use my vacation and sick leave to top up what short-term disability wouldn’t pay for, but that turned out to be wrong.” Abby waited a month without pay, then, instead of a paycheck, only received the year-end bonus around Christmas, then her actual paycheck a week later.
Home monitoring crept into the employee handbook
In January of this year, we also discovered that management had inserted new rules on working from home in a new employee handbook. The new telework rules raise serious privacy concerns.
The new requirement states: “The employee will be available at all times during work hours for visits by his or her supervisor and other Step-Up, Inc. employees.” This implies that workers authorized to work from home can find a supervisor or other employee showing up at their door without notice.
The new handbook also spells out this stipulation to those of us with children: “The employee will manage dependent care or personal responsibilities in a manner that allows them to successfully discharge their job responsibilities. All primary care for any disabled or elderly child or adult at home must be provided by someone other than the employee during the employee’s working hours. »
In that not-so-subtle way, Step-Up was telling us to pay for daycare and eldercare or we might get a visit from management with consequences to follow. Again, Step-Up does not provide childcare assistance or maternity leave.
My co-workers and I feel increased pressure to be in the office, even though it is possible to complete tasks through telecommuting. The pressure of being in the office hits us at a time when gas prices have soared over $5 a gallon, and with no increase in the cost of living, we’re not getting any real wage increases to offset the burden.
Organizing committee formed
As working conditions deteriorated, some of my co-workers thought it would be enough to write a letter to the Step-Up board to fix these issues. But this plan failed. A colleague was cornered and intimidated by management when news of the plan to write the letter broke. It was then that I pointed out how helpless we were without a union.
In a very careful and organized way, I started talking with my colleagues individually to get a sense of their position on the possibility of organizing. We all have good professional and personal relationships with each other; we are like a family.
Since Step-Up is such a small agency, we not only spend time together at work, but also socialize and hang out after hours. So, after receiving an overwhelmingly positive response to the idea of organizing, I solidified the most passionate people into an organizing committee made up of about eight of us. We met in a bar after work one day in March.
Everyone showed up, excited, full of energy and hopeful about making Step-Up a better place to work and, in doing so, improving the quality of the services we provide to community members. As passionate advocates for those we serve, we know we need to take care of ourselves too. During our first meeting, we reflected on our message to management and also divided up the responsibilities for evaluating our colleagues.
After that meeting, I contacted fellow union member of AFSCME Council 962, Michael Torres. In 2006, the Indiana Central District Communist Party Club of which I am a member was instrumental in organizing Indianapolis library workers with AFSCME. I knew this union well, having been the financial secretary of AFSCME Local 3730 when I worked for the state. Michael immediately put me in touch with Tina Dillard from our local AFSCME council.
As things continued to move forward in April and we received positive responses from our colleagues, we held our first meeting with Tina and the AFSCME Organizing Committee, and received cards. During breaks, lunches, and after hours, the committee collected signatures from nearly every employee.
Step-Up is a small agency, but we are proud of what we have achieved so far. “This movement will not only benefit me and my colleagues, but also those who will follow us,” said Ana Cooper, a member of the organizing committee, adding that the campaign is also “for the people we serve”.
Management has until June 21 to respond to the union’s opinion.