4/30/08

SEIU pickets disabled care center for higher pay

More than 200 employees at a regional care center for the developmentally disabled will picket for higher pay today in a union-backed demonstration. The informational protest planned from noon to 1 p. m. at all six Tri-Counties Regional Center branches will come as the nonprofit group faces potentially deep cuts in the state funding on which it relies.

Service Employees International Union Local 721—which represents about 220 of the center’s workers in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties — has asked managers for cost-of-living raises beyond the 1.4 percent increase the union said has been proposed.

Wage negotiations between SEIU chapter leaders and center managers have gone on for more than six months. Tri-Counties operates two facilities for the developmentally disabled in San Luis Obispo County: one at 3450 Broad St. in San Luis Obispo and another at 5905 Capistrano Ave. in Atascadero.

The union recently filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Tri- Counties, claiming administrators retaliated against employees who displayed pro-union signs in an Oxnard office.

Michael Nagel, human resources director for Tri-Counties, disputed the union’s claims. He said about half of the center’s 270 employees can expect raises between 3 percent and 5 percent, despite a potential cut in state funding.

In 2006, the most recent year for which data was available, the nonprofit group relied on the state for all but $248,000 of the $146 million it received in contributions. It was unclear, Nagel said, how much the state would contribute in the coming year.

As for unfair labor complaints, Nagel said, the Oxnard employees violated a contract agreement that he said prevented them from displaying large SEIU signs or placards in the office.

“Tri-Counties Regional Center is disappointed…that some employees have chosen to picket about the current wage reopener negotiations,” he said.

But the prolonged negotiations have exacerbated already excessive employee turnover in the center, SEIU chapter President Alice Forsythe said. Management and union leaders hope to continue bargaining Friday.

“We have to stand up for the people that need our services,” Forsythe said. “High turnover of senior case workers hurts them.”

However, Nagel said, turnover at the center averages between 10 percent and 15 percent a year, a figure he said was “extremely low” for the field.

(sanluisobispo.com)

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