Kitsap Mental Health Workers Say Union Has Been Too Adversarial

By Rachel Pritchett
The National Labor Relations Board may ultimately decide whether workers at Kitsap Mental Health Services still are represented by the Service Employees International Union.
While one employee said there is some division among staff over the current status of the SEIU, many employees said Tuesday they want no part of it. The union has represented KMHS employees since about 1991 under two locals, including the present one, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.
SEIU leaders recently sent a letter to high-ranking legislators accusing KMHS of union-busting and misuse of state-appropriated funds.
A day after that news was published in the Kitsap Sun, KMHS employees gave their perspectives on the story.
Some employees aren’t ruling out other union representation in the future.
“I felt like the union wanted me to believe that the management was bad and that I needed the protection of the union,” said therapist David Secrest.
“I want a union that communicates and works with management without an adversarial relationship.”
Said clerk Jackie Fitzgerald, “I think we can do this ourselves.”
Tina D’Astoli, an office coordinator, agreed: “We’re going with no union. … We can always bring in another union; we could even be our own guild.
“It was anything but SEIU,” she said.
The trouble started last spring.
A two-year contract covering about 200 employees was to expire
March 31. Negotiations between management and the union weren’t going well.
“There was a distrust on both sides that was caustic,” D’Astoli said.
One of the issues taken up during bargaining appeared to break the camel’s back. An earlier dispute between the union and management over a state-authorized 1.4 percent pay hike that never materialized had been taken to arbitration. Management won, representatives for both sides said.
But the union resurrected the issue at the bargaining table, which D’Astoli said somehow widened the gap not only between the union and management, but the union and the employees it represented.
Negotiations continued over many months.
In November, management came up with a proposal that included maintaining health insurance premiums for one year before raising them modestly the second year; and wage increases held until July, when a 3-percent increase would begin to take effect.
It also called for a one-time $1,000 lump-sum payment for each employee, but it did not contain the 1.4 percent pay increase, according to D’Astoli.
Workers said the union never brought the contract to them for a vote. D’Astoli said the union was sore about the missing 1.4 percent increase, that the management proposal didn’t include a provision to get Veterans Day off, and there was no provision for a closed union shop.
Union representatives could not be reached Tuesday.
KMHS Executive
Director Joe Roszak was reluctant to talk Tuesday, due to the pending charge of unfair labor practices recently brought by the union to the NLRB.
Relations between some staffers and the union apparently continued to sour, with the members believing the union was too aggressive.
In early December, D’Astoli began a petition calling on management to withdraw recognition of the union. She said it was signed by 55 percent of workers covered by the previous union contract.
Regarding union allegations that management coerced staffers to sign the petition, D’Astoli and many other staffers told the Kitsap Sun that wasn’t the case.
“This was of my own volition,” D’Astoli said.
She and the staffers also said management did not use the $1,000 payments it had offered as a carrot to get them to decertify the union.
The petition was delivered to management
Dec. 11. After that, management distributed the $1,000 payments, workers said.
Meanwhile, Roszak and Tom Hyde, KMHS board president, have been trying to neutralize any impact from a memo written by union leadership on
Dec. 18 to legislators alleging unfair labor practices and illegal use of government funds for the $1,000 bonuses.
On Dec. 23, they wrote their own.
“There has been absolutely no misuse of Medicaid and/or non-Medicaid dollars by KMHS, and we have not used these or any other dollars to engage in ‘union-busting’ activities,” it stated.
As for the $1,000 payments, they wrote, “KMHS does not provide staff ‘bonuses’ (n)or did KMHS provide staff a $1,000 ‘bonus’ as an inducement to decertify the union.”
For now, workers appear to have put a certain level of trust in management, even without a contract.
“I have no problems trusting what management was doing,” D’Astoli said.

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