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Pressure by AFSCME helps lead to request for more money for SACU members
Updated On: Aug 28, 2014
Local 1246 President Matt Orser testifies before the Oregon Legislature's February 2014 session.

An intense lobbying effort applied jointly by the leadership of Oregon AFSCME Local 1246 and Council 75 personnel has spurred t

An intense lobbying effort applied jointly by the leadership of Oregon AFSCME Local 1246 and Council 75 personnel has spurred the Department of Human Services to seek additional staffing money for the state's Stabilization and Crisis Unit (SACU) from the Oregon Legislature's Emergency Board.


Local 1246 represents around 550 SACU workers, who tend to Intellectually Developmentally Disabled clients housed in state-operated groups homes in the Willamette Valley corridor from Portland to Eugene. SACU's initial client base came from the old Fairview Training Center in Salem when it closed in 2000. However, in the intervening years, it's been well documented that the clients have changed, and Local 1246 members are dealing an IDD population that is younger, stronger and more violent. There have been rapidly increasing incidents of clients assaulting staff and in some instances, members of the public, as well as doing extensive damage to the individual homes and some neighboring properties.


While there is not a magic bullet solution, one area that the union and SACU management agree would be a huge step in the right direction is the establishment of Emergency Response Teams that would be available, as the name suggests, to step in and help deal with particular emergencies at SACU homes, and would otherwise provide much-needed staffing support to the homes. Ideally, three such ERTs would be situated one each in greater Portland, Salem and Eugene.


However, the (proposed) six-person teams would come with a price tag. AFSCME has estimated the cost of the additional employees to be about $700,000 annually in salary alone. Traditionally, the Emergency Board does not grant state agencies additional FTEs in mid-biennium, preferring instead that those kinds of requests wait for a full (odd-year) legislative session, such as is coming in 2015. So DHS was hesitant to make the request to the mid-month September E-Board.


"But this couldn't wait," says Council 75 Staff Representative Randy Ridderbusch. "Our people are getting hurt, and they are working three, four, even five consecutive mandatory 16-hour days. People get hurt and situations occur when employees are working with this client base those many hours without time off."


So Local 1246 leadership, Ridderbusch and associated Council 75 political and communications staff put together a package for the ERTs and convinced "friendly" legislators to present it before the Emergency Board. One key state capitol pundit said the move to have legislators make such a request on behalf of the union and its workers was "highly unusual, though not entirely unprecedented."


However, it was unusual enough to catch the attention of several ranking lawmakers who were not happy that DHS was not bringing the issue to their attention. The fallout is that DHS now is going to ask for new money for SACU from the E-Board — in fact, their proposal will apparently carry a price tag higher than what the union had outlined.


"This is great news for us," says Ridderbusch. "We are not working against the agency here — we're on the same page on these ERTS. But it's definitely better for DHS to be the ones making the request, and that's going to happen now. It likely wouldn't have happened without the work we did. It's not over, and we will be there to support the agency's proposal. But it clearly shows we have the power to enact change when we set our minds to it and get everyone working together." 

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