Labor Board Hears Testimony on Union

Hearings Are Held to Determine Whether Union Vote at Community Services Should Be Narrow or Broad

By MANDY LOCKE

After two full days of testimony before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Boston last week to determine which Martha's Vineyard Community Services employees may vote to unionize, the administration and Island Counseling Center petitioners for a union reached no agreement.

The NLRB hearings were called after employees of the Island Counseling Center (ICC) - one of the five Community Services agencies - filed a petition on March 15 to form a bargaining unit of the Hyannis-based Hospital Workers Union, local 767 of the Service Employees International Union.

Exactly which employees of Community Services will be allowed to vote for union status is the sticking point still unresolved after last week's hearing. The administration argued all 130 employees of Community Services - excluding supervisors, business office employees and Thrift Shop employees - should be allowed to vote on whether to join a union. Union officials argued only employees with "professional" status - counselors from ICC - should be eligible to form a bargaining unit.

After two days in front of the NLRB, only Community Services administration officials testified. Petitioners from ICC and union officials are expected to testify when the hearings resume April 15 and 16.

This week, the clash between the administration and ICC employees continues with competing memorandums delivered to the 130 employees of Community Services.

"The union continues to insist that only employees in the Island Counseling Center should be allowed to vote. The Union continues to insist that only employees of the union deemed to be ‘professional' should vote. Unfortunately, because the union's refusal to let everyone vote, we can look forward to more hearing days in Boston," said a memorandum dated March 28 from Community Services executive director Ned Robinson-Lynch.

The union petitioners answered the administration's update with a memo of their own, delivered to all community service employees Wednesday.

"The staff at ICC has been actively involved in a process over the last two years to address issues of compensation. Staff members at almost every level are not paid a living wage. Also, we do not have parity with others of the same training who do the same work in similar settings," the employees said.

The petitioners explain that under state and federal labor law, ICC staff is defined as a "community of interest," and should, therefore, form their own bargaining unit.

Counselors at ICC must have an advanced degree and be a licensed mental health worker, one of the petitioners, Amy Lilavois, explained.

ICC staff also argued that under labor laws they are considered "professionals," and must have the opportunity to vote as a separate bargaining unit.

The National Labor Relations Board defines "professional" as a person who "requires knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study in an institution of higher learning or a hospital, as distinguished from a general academic education, or from an apprenticeship, or from training in the performance of routine mental, manual or physical processes."

In their memorandum, the petitioners said they did not want to force other Community Services employees into a decision on unionizing.

"We have had a series of concerns specific to our staff and have come to a decision as a group that unionizing is right for us. We did not want to create a situation that would face other staff with a choice they might not want to make," the memorandum said.

Petitioner Jane Dreeben said ICC staff does not know what other Community Services employees think about the campaign for a union.

"We didn't know if these were their concerns or not. We only knew what was going on in our program. We didn't know if it would be meaningful for other employees," Ms. Dreeben said.

"We needed to do this behind closed doors. We had no idea what people in other programs would think, because we really don't interact with them often," Ms. Lilavois said.

The petitioners' memo acknowledges that valid legal arguments can be made by both the administration and ICC counselors concerning voting rights. Ultimately, the NLRB will designate which employees may vote. A simple majority of eligible voters is required for union approval. Nineteen of 27 ICC employees signed the petition to join the Hospital Workers Union, but more ICC staff have joined the effort since the March 15 filing, Ms. Dreeben said.

In a press release from Mr. Robinson-Lynch released this week, he said all Community Services employees will be affected by the union drive.

"The union's continued insistence on limiting the number of employees who can vote disregards the rights of all employees to participate in making a decision that will ultimately affect each member of the staff of Martha's Vineyard Community Services," Mr. Robinson-Lynch declared.

"It is a graphic illustration of the divisive way in which this union operates and strengthens the agency's resolve to resist the union's efforts to divide our staff."

Mr. Robinson-Lynch said NLRB process restricts public comment by the administration on the labor dispute at this time.