Thursday, July 16, 2015

Staff at Calif. children's home stand up for workplace rights

An organizing victory in California is getting attention because of the unique work the new Teamsters do, and because of the challenges faced by workers in the industry.

Edgewood workers joined Local 856.
After a difficult organizing campaign, direct care staff at Edgewood Center for Children and Families in San Francisco voted to join Local 856 in San Bruno, Calif. In June 2014, workers there began the process of forming a union in an effort to stem the agency’s notoriously high turnover rate and bring benefits and wages on par with comparable nonprofits in San Francisco.

About 150 residential counselors and direct care staff work with some of the most emotionally challenged children in the Bay Area. Staff work up to 16-hours days with no overtime, unaffordable health care options and wages that do not keep up with the cost of living in one of the most expensive cities in the country.

ProPublica, an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest, ran a story on the Teamster victory at Edgewood shortly after they joined the union:
Workers at a former orphanage in San Francisco that now functions as a large group home for troubled children have unionized—a rare step by frontline employees who work at facilities that can be both demanding and dangerous. 
In June 2014, a large group of workers at Edgewood, a complex in the city’s Sunset district that houses a maximum of 48 children, first began to work with a local of the national Teamsters union. The workers wanted higher wages, better benefits and a greater say in the treatment of the children under their care, said Michael Shih, a residential counselor who worked on the Edgewood campus for five years and played a leading role in organizing the workers.
Previously, ProPublica reported on the demise of a similar home in Davis, Calif., run by a nonprofit called EMQ FamiliesFirst. Due to staffing problems, workers there were ill equipped to care for the troubled children entrusted to them.

According to ProPublica, the lack of training and low wages resulted in a difficult working environment and high turnover. Residential counselor Cory Henning said in a statement:
In the past year, I have had to take over two months off of work due to assaults on the floor. Instead of receiving support from the management while injured, I was asked to return to the floor… essentially risking my safety due to low-staffing.
Edgewood’s conduct in an October 2014 election resulted in a National Labor Relations Board investigation. Edgewood agreed to a settlement and the workers won a new election, voting to join the Teamsters in May.

Look for a story on these workers in the next issue of Teamster magazine.