Community Services Hit with Complaint

Federal Labor Board Charges Agency with Poor Treatment of Employees During Union Organizing Effort


A dormant labor dispute at Martha's Vineyard Community Services bubbled to life again yesterday when a newly formed union announced that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued a complaint against the umbrella social service agency.

According to the union, the complaint cites poor treatment of employees at the Island Counseling Center and Visiting Nurse Service in December of last year. Just before Christmas, the board of directors at Community Services sent a letter to all its employees announcing a 2.5 per cent cost of living raise. About 40 employees who had voted to form a collective bargaining unit last summer were excluded from the pay raise.

A short time later, the union said, Community Services agreed to give the pay raise to the employees that had been excluded - but only after a complaint had been filed with the NLRB.

The NLRB complaint states that Community Services "interfered with, restrained and coerced employees in the exercise of their rights," according to a press release issued by a spokesman for the union.

"We were literally Scrooged before Christmas," said union member Dr. Jane Dreeben in the press release. "We told them at the time that they were breaking the law and now the federal government has affirmed our position," added Jack Van Osdol, a spokesman for the union who is based on the Cape.

Community Services executive director Ned Robinson-Lynch could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Professionals who work at the counseling center and visiting nurse agencies are now members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Technically they are members of the Hospital Workers Union Local 767. It is the only union at Community Services, which includes 130 employees in six separate agencies. The union workers have been in contract negotiations with managers at Community Services since August, but still there is no contract.

"We're negotiating and it's like there's this elephant in the room," said Mr. Van Osdol, referring to the NLRB complaint. "We know what the ruling was and they know what the ruling was but they don't want to talk about it," he added.

In the press release Mr. Van Osdol said he has still not met Mr. Robinson-Lynch.

"We've met in negotiations for seven months now and I've still yet to meet the director of the agency," he said, adding: "Unless they start to show more of a commitment to this process from the top, I expect a pretty tough summer ahead of us."

Mr. Van Osdol said he expects Community Services to appeal the NLRB ruling. He said a hearing date has been set for July 7.

"Hey, just admit that you were wrong and we can move on. The government has ruled against them," he said. "They aren't spending any money on the workers but they can spend money on this lawyer out of Boston to appeal this ruling - don't tell me he's working pro bono."

Mr. Van Osdol said contract negotiations are not progressing well. "Negotiations are at best lousy. I don't see any light at the end or the tunnel," he said.

The move to form a union was started last spring by workers at the Island Counseling Center, and throughout the spring and early summer tensions ran high between workers and managers at the 40-year-old health and human service agency. Salaries and benefits were the central theme.