A step toward a union

May 14, 2013

Paul Dean, a worker at Bethesda Lutheran Communities, reports on a step forward for a union organizing drive at his workplace.

A GROUP of direct support professionals (DSPs) at Bethesda Lutheran Communities (BLC) in Portland, Ore., have successfully filed for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

DSPs assist people who have developmental disabilities with cooking, hygiene, medication and other basic needs, yet they generally receive close to minimum wage. Starting pay is about $10 an hour, and wages barely go up from there. People who have been working with BLC for 13 years get $11.40 an hour, and workers are required to work on holidays.

BLC's CEO doesn't have to worry about his salary, however, because he made $363,698 in 2010.

The DSPs have been organizing with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 in Portland. The management of BLC--a Christian non-profit corporation that receives money from the government as well as individual donations--has spent a lot trying to derail the efforts of workers from their struggle for a living wage and better benefits and working conditions.

Workers celebrate after turning in hundreds of union cards
Workers celebrate after turning in hundreds of union cards (Better Bethesda Oregon)

DSPs who work in group homes have been bombarded with anti-union e-mails, notices posted all over their work sites and compulsory "information" meetings with management (which union activists have been excluded from). All of this did not deter people from signing union cards.

Workers now have the right to hold a union election, which will likely be conducted by the NLRB near the end of the month. BLC is worried that a successful union election in Portland could lead to similar action in the other states it operates in--which is why BLC management are putting so much effort and money into stopping this union drive.

BLC has increased its anti-union campaign, creating a website in which it claims to "expose" the union. They have plenty to say about the union--but nothing about the issues of low pay, pathetic benefits and disrespect for the people who are on the front lines of providing support to people with developmental disabilities.

Since the filing for the union election, management has held meetings with small groups of workers with the company's anti-union lawyer, brought in from Illinois, in an attempt to intimidate and frighten workers. BLC tells us how hard up they are and that times are tight--yet management spares no expense fly in well-paid lawyers, instead of spending the money on support services.

But management is failing in its campaign. Workers can see through the overbearing attitude. In fact, after the union had submitted the authorization cards to the NLRB, even more people signed cards.

The union campaign is now reaching out to the wider community. A facebook page, "Better Bethesda Oregon," has been set up and a petition has been launched asking people to support BLC workers in their effort to form a union. Workers are asking the public to call on Bethesda management to stop spending public money that's meant to support people on an effort to stop workers from forming a union.

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