Head Start workers OK pact

HEALTHY AGREEMENT: Michelle DaSilva, left, CAAS Head Start employee and union leader, and internal organizer Madeline Soto celebrate the ratification of a new contract.

HEALTHY AGREEMENT: Michelle DaSilva, left, CAAS Head Start employee and union leader, and internal organizer Madeline Soto celebrate the ratification of a new contract.

Workers at the Community Action Agency of Somerville (CAAS) overwhelmingly approved a new contract that boosts wages while maintaining a comprehensive health insurance plan at a low cost.

The biggest stumbling block in negotiations was the health plan. Management was looking to cut costs by making workers pay a higher percentage of the costs and get less-comprehensive coverage. Also, CAAS wanted workers to pay, retroactively, for the increased cost of premiums. The contract covers about 47 Local 888 members.

“Our negotiating committee stayed strong and united,” said Michelle DaSilva, a 20-year CAAS employee and union leader. “Having the expertise of Local 888 staff gave us the support we needed to keep our excellent health benefits.”

Union members contribute 11 percent of the cost of insurance premiums, while the employer covers the rest of the Local 888-administrated plan. One reason negotiations moved forward: The union was able to find a new insurance provider. Premiums will only go up 4 percent, but CAAS will continue to cover 89 percent of the overall cost.

Union members at CAAS, which runs Head Start in Cambridge and Somerville, are daycare teachers, family advocates and housing advocates.

“Having a union contract is good for our entire agency,” said CAAS Director David Gibbs. “Our wages and benefits allow us to have one of the very best staff retention rates. Given the strong commitment and high-quality services our staff provide, they are still seriously underpaid. Unfortunately, we can’t fix that without more state and federal funding for programs like Head Start.”

Members will receive a 1.7 percent cost of living increase in the first year, with a scheduled “wage re-opener” to consider increases in future years.

The Somerville-based CAAS Head Start program serves about 275 low-income children, ages 3 to 5, and their families each year. Head Start is a federally-funded national program.

If you or your co-workers are interested in learning about the SEIU Local 888 Affiliated Funds — which include health, dental and vision plans — call Linda DeLuca at 617-241-3367 or email ldeluca.funds@seiu888.org.

 

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