Any sort of good news
regarding funding is few and far between at the state capitol this session.
However, a persistent fight for better funding for seniors and those needing
disabled services statewide, spearheaded by AFSCME, has concluded with a big
jump in state funds that should mean raises and better benefits for some
Council 75 members.
Area Agencies on Aging,
commonly known as "Triples As," are generally county-based consortiums that
offer things such as Medicare and Medicaid protective services, eligibility
screening, seniors meals programs and such. A prime example is NorthWest
Seniors & Disability Services, which provides such care to the widespread
citizens of Clatsop, Marion, Polk, Tillamook and Yamhill counties. NWSDS
employees are represented by Oregon AFSCME Local 3669.
Several years ago, the state
provided funds equaling 95 percent of what the state could perform the services
at, with the assumption that there was a 5 percent economy of scale by
providing the services locally. Over the years, that percentage has dropped to
a current level of 83 percent.
"At the 83 percent funding
level, counties were threatening to simply give the programs back to the state,
which they have the legal right to do," says veteran Oregon AFSCME Political
Coordinator Ralph Groener, the person leading the fight for the union. "They
couldn't make a go of it at that amount."
"We have employees who have
had frozen steps, no COLAs and horrible insurance co-pays for years," adds
Council 75 Syaff Representative Randy Ridderbusch, who services Local 3669. "It
had to change."
And change it will. Groener,
with help from a variety of unusual sources, including state Rep. Dennis
Richardson (R-Central Point), arguably the Legislature's most conservative
member, successfully put together a package that will increase state funding
back to the 95 percent level.
"Even Rep. Richardson
understood that having the state take back these programs would not only be
detrimental to the service level, it would cost more money," said Groener.
The package includes an
extra $300,000 to help the statewide Meals on Wheels program. Ridderbusch says
another important component is the switch from a caseload model to a workload
"Previously, money was
allocated by caseloads," said Ridderbusch. "But under that model, you're not
counting the work involved with people ultimately deemed ineligible. For
example, we have members who are Eligibility Specialists. They may work
anywhere from four hours to four days determining if someone is eligible to
receive benefits. If ultimately deemed ineligible, under the caseload model all
that work counted for nothing as far as reimbursement. The workload model is
much more fair."
Ridderbusch and Groener
estimate the new package will translate to about 175 more people hired
statewide; some of those will fall into AFSCME-represented units. Ridderbusch
is also looking forward to what he termed should be "the first decent
bargaining we've had for these people in a long, long time." A budget note
attached to the package specifies a certain percentage go directly to employee
compensation, giving managers less wiggle room to "play" with the money.
"This has been Ralph's fight
for several sessions," added Ridderbusch. "We've had lots of staff and member
support, but Ralph deserves the primary credit for seeing this through."