About two months after settling a bitter labor dispute with management, hundreds of workers at the Astoria-based Quality Services for the Autism Community have approved forming a union with the Civil Service Employees Association, Local 1000.
QSAC employees joining the union, who work under the banner of Quality Care Advocates for the Rights of Employees, were joined by local political and religious leaders and representatives from CSEA on the steps of Queens Borough Hall last Thursday to announce the unionization.
Although members of QCARE and their supporters touted the development as being a major step toward improving conditions for employees, most of the speakers at last week’s press conference emphasized that it would go a long way toward improving care at the facility. The 25-year-old QSAC also has locations in Hollis and Whitestone.
QSAC has been making headlines over the past year, not only because of the labor battle, but also because of questions about the quality of care the non-profit organization is offering. An investigation by the state’s Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities concluded last month that two of QSAC’s residential programs and one of its day programs were deficient.
Jason Corley, 36, of Jamaica, has worked at QSAC for 21 years, having started at the organization when he was still in high school. During the year-long campaign to form a union, he described an atmosphere at QSAC in which he alleged harassment from management, including the firing of two employees.
He expressed solidarity with all workers who are campaigning to form a union, especially those in the social-services field. He urged them to “stand and fight for better working conditions.
“We thought, we fought and we are victorious,” he said. “During the course of a one-year battle, we realized that the more we resist, the more we gain respect.”
CSEA had argued that QSAC management was unfairly blocking its employees from voting on whether to form a union. The discord included accusations of harassment and intimidation from both sides.
However, an agreement was reached in December between the two sides that allowed for a card-check procedure, enabling QSAC employees the chance to decide whether they wanted to be represented by CSEA. A third party was called in to verify whether a majority of employees signed a petition favoring union representation.
One of the stipulations of the agreement was that if the petition failed, the organizing efforts would be called off.
City Councilman Hiram Monserrate, the father of an autistic child, praised the efforts of QCARE workers.
“Despite the many obstacles in their path, QSAC’s hard-working staff is determined to secure a positive working environment for their co-workers and the high quality care QSAC’s clients deserve,” he said. “I look forward to continuing work with the QSAC community, including employees, clients and management, to ensure a better, brighter future for everyone involved.”
Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, of Astoria, who helped broker the agreement between CSEA and QSAC, is happy that a resolution has been met.
“I am hopeful that this cooperative spirit will continue with management and employees working together to provide the best possible assistance to those served by QSAC,” he said.
Father N.J. L’Heureux, president of the Queens Federation of Churches, believed it was important for the religious sector to get involved in the dispute in order to assure both that workers’ rights are being met, and that the clients are receiving the best possible services from the organization.
“This victory today will ensure that workers will be able to provide better care and better lives for these brothers and sisters of ours,” he said. “More importantly, it will benefit the people whose lives are entrusted with you.”
Gary Maffei, executive director of QSAC, said that the organization is taking steps to ensure a successful collective bargaining process with CSEA, including having parents of children at QSAC involved directly with the negotiating team.
“To ensure negotiations don’t in any way interrupt the award-winning quality care we provide to our consumers, every step forward will include consultations with parents who are on our board of directors and who have children in our programs,” Maffei said in a statement.
He also urged the parties involved in the negotiations to refrain from bringing issues to the media, or to begin “public rhetoric” which could hinder the bargaining process.
“For negotiations to be most productive, public commentary on how negotiations are proceeding, or about differences that may emerge between the parties, and assigning blame, are best resolved within the negotiating sessions among negotiators, not in the public arena,” he said.
Parents on the board of directors will also form a subcommittee of other parents in order to formulate positions and policies.