Workers at Twin Cities mental health agency to vote on union

Wellness is at the heart of what Headway Emotional Health Services workers do on the job. It’s also at the heart of their union drive, which moved a step closer to the finish line last week.

Headway workers filed a petition Oct. 18 asking the National Labor Relations Board to hold a union election covering 143 therapists, case managers, administrative staff and others employed at the nonprofit’s treatment facilities in Brooklyn Center, Minnetonka and Richfield.

Andrew Vanden Broeke, a day treatment therapist who works with children 12 to 17 years old, said Headway workers began organizing their union in June 2020, and have since collected signatures of support from a majority of staff members.

“The helping profession has reached this point where it’s no longer acceptable to place us on the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to the labor we do,” Vanden Broeke said. “It may not be physically backbreaking, but it’s mentally and emotionally backbreaking.

“We can’t adequately serve others until we are adequately taken care of.”

Headway workers have outlined several priorities they hope to address in collective bargaining. Wages and benefits top that list.

Some workers, Vanden Broeke said, have reported going four years without a wage increase, and Headway recently increased health insurance premiums for many workers without notice.

“We get into the program because we want to help people and add something positive to the community,” Vanden Broeke said. “But what’s wrong with doing that and being able to pay our bills and put food on our table, being able to survive on only one job?”

Workers also want more power over decisions that impact how they do their jobs and how Headway supports workers from marginalized communities.

“The No. 1 thing that comes up when we’re having conversations with our co-workers is the lack of value we feel our employer places in us,” Vanden Broeke said. “They make decisions and don’t tell us until the decisions are final and on their way down, and we just have to deal with it.”

By seeking a more powerful voice in the organizations they serve, Headway and other nonprofit workers have sparked a recent wave of union organizing both locally and nationally.

Workers at no less than 18 Minnesota-based nonprofit organizations have formed unions since 2019. They include arts organizations like the Walker museum, media services like MinnPost and public radio stations, and advocacy groups like CTUL and TakeAction Minnesota.

Headway would be among the largest successful nonprofit organizing drives locally, although an even larger campaign – nearly 300 workers at the Minnesota Historical Society organizing with AFSCME Council 5 – appears headed for a vote soon as well.

MHS workers filed their NLRB petition Sept. 20 and have since reached an election agreement with the employer.

Headway workers, who are organizing with support from Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 12, sought a similar arrangement with their employer, hoping to bypass the contentious – and often expensive – NLRB process.

A delegation of about 20 workers marched on Headway’s director of human resources Oct. 14. They presented their union petition and asked management to accept workers’ decision and begin bargaining a first contract.

“We believe that our union’s core values – equity, transparency, security, and a voice for us workers – are consistent with Headway’s stated mission,” workers said in a petition to CEO Pat Dale.

Although Dale denied the request, organizers are still asking supporters from the community to contact Dale and urge him to change course and work with their union – or, at the very least, commit to refraining from threats, harassment and other anti-union tactics in the run up to an NLRB election.

Click here to sign the petition.

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