New members Colleen Lee and Phuong Dang explain why they joined 1021.
Colleen Lee (left) and Phuong Dang (right) were leaders of the organizing committee of their successful Union drive at ACMHS.
On October 30, 2012, Asian Community Mental Health Services (ACMHS) in Oakland voluntarily recognized SEIU 1021 as the exclusive bargaining agent for staff. This came on the heels of an intense three-month Union organizing drive where thirteen different community organizations and elected officials wrote and called the executive director and board of directors of ACMHS on behalf of the organizing workers. The voluntary recognition, announced just two days before the scheduled National Labor Relations Board election, came as a pleasant surprise to the employees who had worked so diligently to organize their coworkers in forming a Union at their workplace.
The day after the recognition of the Union, October 31, two leaders of the organizing committee at ACMHS, Phuong Dang and Colleen Lee, sat down with SEIU 1021 member Robynn Takayama to be interviewed for her radio program, Apex Express, on KPFA 94.1. They described the services their agency provides and explained why they decided to form a Union at ACMHS.
“A lot of us felt that we didn’t have job security, and personally I felt that there was a lack of respect going on for each individual. I’ve been here for over ten years. With some of the events that have happened, for being here for over ten years, I would expect to be treated a little differently. I just felt that our voices weren’t being heard. They were being muffled if anything. If something was shared, it felt like it was in one ear and out the other,” explained Colleen.
When asked why they chose SEIU 1021 instead of another Union, Phuong explained: “We contacted a few organizations to represent us. SEIU 1021 was the first to respond, very quickly actually, and were able to set up a meeting for us and give us information right away. When we spoke to the representative, we realized they represent several agencies we are affiliated with, such as Asian Health Services and Regional Center of the East Bay. At that point, we felt this was the place that could represent us. It seems like those other companies are doing really well at this time and the workers seem really happy, and it seemed like that was the point we wanted to be at.”
Phuong and Colleen, along with several coworkers, worked hard to juggle the challenges of organizing the staff on their own time. Between disseminating information, answering questions and helping coworkers overcome fear of retaliation, organizing can be a tough job–especially since it cannot be done during work hours.
SEIU Local 1021 organizer Ryan Mariategue, who assisted with the ACMHS campaign, described the campaign as one piece of a larger puzzle. “SEIU is for the fair treatment of all workers. Nonprofits are an important part of that…This is bigger than ACMHS. It is opening doors for other organizations in the Asian Pacific Islander community to form their own unions so they can have their issues addressed.”
What are the next steps at ACMHS now that they are part of the SEIU 1021 family?
According to Colleen, “We’re trying to get a negotiating committee together and get the negotiations going [for our contract] because we’re eager!”