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The union difference shines through in New Jersey behavioral health contract

Mark McCullough
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Nearly 250 behavioral health workers at Care Plus NJ, Inc., who formed a union through NUHHCE District 1199J, AFSCME, have overwhelmingly approved a new four-year contract that helps them continue their education, rewards them for their hard work throughout the pandemic, and contains no changes to their health insurance contributions or require other givebacks.

The new contract will help set a new standard for behavioral health contracts across the industry, underscoring the union difference for workers who deliver the services our communities need. This is especially critical as a recent labor law is implemented throughout New Jersey.

“Our goal for this contract was to have it reflect that we never quit on each other or those we serve, even during the toughest days this past year, and the reality of how hard it will be on our workforce in the coming years as we help our communities cope and rebuild from the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Stacey Woodard, a partial care program coordinator and a bargaining team member.  

Contract highlights include an increase in the annual tuition fund to $30,000, recognition of Juneteenth as a holiday, and a $1,200 one-time bonus or monthly bonus depending on hire date. To attract and retain staff, the contract sets an immediate minimum pay rate of $15 an hour for all positions and then implements 3% across-the-board increase for each of the next two years, including on the new minimum rate.

“This contract gives us on the front lines solid footing as New Jersey’s behavioral health industry is set to undergo a major transition through an unprecedented surge in service demand, state legislation and funding from the American Rescue Plan,” said Charity Garcia, an administrative support specialist who was also a member of the bargaining team. “This didn’t happen overnight, but through years of internal organizing, activism and making the most of the times we’ve partnered with management to improve our industry and the services we can provide.”