BHR braces for weekend strike after last-minute negotiation fails

OlympianMarch 13, 2014 

BHR employees are preparing to strike at eight locations in Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor counties. The mental health and addiction services provider works with 10,000 low-income clients a year.

COURTESY OF SEIU HEALTHCARE 1199NW

Behavioral Health Resources has announced that no settlement was reached with employees in a last-minute effort to avert a strike.

Employees in SEIU 1199NW will begin picketing at 8 a.m. Friday. The strike will last through the weekend, and will end at 7:59 a.m. Monday.

BHR provides mental health and addiction services to 10,000 people in Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor counties. BHR will cancel nearly all outpatient services, but will provide “crisis response services” in all three counties over the weekend.

Outpatient psychiatry appointments will occur as scheduled Friday. Mental health professionals will be stationed Friday in Olympia, Shelton and Hoquiam, according to BHR.

BHR and the union met Wednesday for negotiations, and remain unable to agree on a new labor contract. Most of BHR’s 293 employees belong to the union, and their contract expired in March 2013.

Key conflicts in negotiations include an increased cost for employee medical benefits. The union has proposed paying higher premiums and has offered concessions such as foregoing wage raises. Union employees had planned a gathering Wednesday evening to make picket signs and practice chants.

BHR has fallen on hard financial times and has struggled to make payroll. The organization’s cash flow has shrunk by more than $2 million since Dec. 2012.

In addition to more expensive health insurance, another problem is linked to the lack of “billable” hours because almost one-third of clients are no-shows. With no-show appointments, BHR cannot receive payment from a regional support network that doles out funding to such organizations.

In a news release, the union blamed BHR’s financial distress on the management.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869 or ahobbs@theolympian.com

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