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."