Settlement at Community Solutions means raises, continued
Union employees and management of human services agency Community Solutions reached a contract agreement Thursday, avoiding a strike that union employees had set for Feb. 11.

Under the contract, which the agency’s board of directors still needs to approve, employees will receive a 1-percent raise this year and a 2-percent raise next year, with wage negotiations re-opening in 2007.

In 2005, the agency’s funding from Santa Clara County is expected to increase approximately $55,000 in cost-of-living adjustments. The new contract states 70 percent of that increase will be converted to employee salaries, which equates to a roughly 1.4-percent increase per employee.

Community Solutions will pay complete health coverage for all employees, their spouses and all dependents under Kaiser plans. For employees who want to stay with the more expensive Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans, the agency will pay up to what Kaiser would provide and employees will pay the difference. Currently, 32 of the agency’s 68 union employees have plans with Kaiser.

The last point of contention, the issue of seniority and lay-offs, also was settled. The new contract specifies that management should take into consideration both skill level and experience when laying off employees.

After negotiating with management until 10:30pm Wednesday, union employees on Thursday around noon voted 41-1 vote in favor of the new contract.

“I think we got an awesome contract. We’re really pleased with it,” said Kristina Estrada, program coordinator at Community Solutions and member of the employee negotiating team.

Agency staff approved the agreement Thursday. The contract, valid through October 2007, will be brought to the agency’s board within the next few days.

“It’s not a contract anyone is jumping up and down about, but it is one that we feel is responsible,” said Erin O’Brien, CEO and president of Community Solutions, adding that the negotiation process on Wednesday was far more constructive than prior sessions. “It’s a tough place for everyone to be in.”

After an hour-long rally in Morgan Hill on Monday, union employees voted to authorize a strike if continuing negotiations with agency management didn’t come through. The strike was set to begin Feb. 11.

O’Brien emphasized that the primary goal for the entire agency, union employees and management alike, is to provide quality service to clients.

“The need in South County is huge. There aren’t very many service providers in this area,” she said. “If we have to turn someone away for service, it’s not like they can walk across the street and knock on someone else’s door. Many have to go down to San Jose. I feel a particular responsibility to meet the needs of folks in South County, because they don’t have very many alternatives.”

The agency is still in a hiring freeze in the face of severe funding cuts that are guaranteed next fiscal year, O’Brien said, as a number of grants are set to expire.

Community Solutions provides behavioral health care, prevention and education, counseling, and domestic violence and rape crisis services to communities in South Santa Clara County and San Benito County. Last year, Community Solutions served 13,500 clients.

Gilroy Dispatch reporter Katie Niekerk can be reached at kniekerk@gilroydispa or 847-7097.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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