Union Retaliation? Homeless Shelter Worker on “Work Plan”

From the Portland Mercury, January 15 2008

A union activist and employee of an Old Town homeless shelter has been put on a “work plan” by her supervisors, she believes, in retaliation for speaking out about low wages for shelter employees.

Rachel Hansen, a veterans’ caseworker at Transition Projects, Inc. (TPI) was quoted in the Mercury last month in an article about members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union threatening to strike over a promised pay rise that has been delayed for TPI workers since last June.

The Mercury interviewed Hansen outside TPI’s shelter at NW 5th and Glisan on December 12. She says she received a letter from her supervisor, Steven Carreker, on December 16, directing her to spend less time talking with clients, and focus instead on getting more of them into permanent housing. In his letter Carreker quoted an informal lunchtime conversation about a client between Hansen and TPI boss Doreen Binder, writing, “It appeared to Doreen that Rachel was not concerned about the client’s mental health needs being met or the client’s general success.”

“But what I’ve heard from other people is that Doreen decides who she wants to fire and she just finds a way to do it,” says Hansen. “I feel unduly and unjustly targeted for my union activity.”

Hansen says she was talking—during the informal lunchtime conversation with Binder—about how she felt she never had enough time to service the needs of each client properly. Hansen had felt positive about the conversation, not that it would be used as grounds for discipline.

Upon hearing about her work plan, Hansen’s fellow shelter employees have voted her employee of the month for January 2009.

Research done by AFSCME shows that the average salary for TPI workers is $26,748, and that it would cost just $66,000 to give employees the 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase they are seeking. Meanwhile, TPI has averaged $250,000 in excess revenues over expenses since 2000, according to AFSCME.

Binder, whose salary is listed as $82,422 on TPI’s tax return for the year 2006-2007, did not respond to a call from the Mercury seeking comment on Hansen’s allegations by press time.