Reports from the pandemic frontlines are very positive in regards to one of the state’s sprawling labor contracts. The so-called “Unit 2” agreement includes a wide range of Local 888 and AFSCME chapters.
The Unit 2 contract negotiations dated back to when the crisis hit hard at the state’s Holyoke and Chelsea Soldiers’ Homes. In Holyoke, 76 veterans died in the outbreak last year.
“It’s a good contract,” said, Kwesi Ablordeppey, the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home chapter president. “And compared to previous contracts, it’s an improvement.” He added that Holyoke Home members voted overwhelmingly for the agreement.
“I feel really good about the contract now,” said Elmer Arriazza, a member of the
bargaining committee and the Chelsea chapter’s vice president. “People are very happy with the bonuses.”
In fact, negotiations over hazard pay, or bonuses, yielded results that made the final labor agreement popular among Soldiers’ Home members. Along the way to the new agreement, however, not all was sweetness and light.
During contract bargaining, the state at first pleaded poverty, said Ablordeppey. For his part, Arriazza had an angry reaction to the initial negotiations: “To be honest, they didn’t want to give us anything.”
Talks that continued all through the governor’s COVID-19 along with other negotiations with the state yielded — for Unit 2 workers and others:
• An hourly differential of $5 per hour for a few months during the height of the pandemic. This had applied — for example — to many Soldiers’ Home members, including certified nursing assistants, with $10 per hour for other employees, such as LPNs.
• A COVID-19 crisis bonus worth 1.5 percent of a worker’s pay, or a minimum of $1,000, in recognition of service.
• A hazardous duty bonus of $2,000 for full-time workers and $1,000 for part-timers.
In its first year, the contract delivers a 2.5 percent raise to Unit 2 workers — which will be paid retroactively (as the contract year finished July 1). That’s a higher percentage increase than the state originally proposed.
Raises in the second and third years of the contract (which runs through July 2023) will be 2 percent.
Other contract wins included that Juneteenth, which celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S., becomes a permanent state holiday.
For a recent Spark article on the Holyoke Soldiers' Home, see https://www.seiu888.org/2021/07/09/holyoke-homes-unions-win-compassionate-care-for-workers-paid-by-state/.