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Union workers see shift in positions, benefits

Union employees of Jackson County's Healthy Start program for first-time moms and babies will be reassigned to new government jobs, not shifted to private, nonprofit employers, officials said.

We view it as a significant victory, said Steve Neuberger, organizer for Service Employees International Union Local 503.However, county officials still intend to outsource the social-service program to save up to 40 percent on wages and benefits. The Legislature cut our Healthy Start grant by &

36;100,000 when they adopted the state budget, said Hank Collins, county health director.

That made it even more crucial that we see if we can't get more services for the limited dollars we have.Unexpected openings and resignations in other county programs will allow six Healthy Start employees to move into those slots, Collins said. That means county officials can subcontract the Healthy Start program to private providers ' at considerable savings ' without shifting current workers, Collins said.

Healthy Start is a federal program to provide health care and other services to high-risk first-time mothers and their babies. Grants are routed through states to local providers to send caseworkers into homes of more than 200 clients a year.

Under a previous plan, Healthy Start employees would have been transferred involuntarily to the nonprofit agencies, eventually reducing their salaries and benefits. Union representatives and area social-service advocates opposed the move, saying it violated negotiated contracts and cut living-wage jobs.

The new arrangement doesn't resolve the issue of subcontracting, but it does maintain current positions, Neuberger said. The question of outsourcing is still something we'll look at, he said. This isn't strictly a union issue. This is a community issue.

The compromise was a relief for Dori Glockler, 56, an 11-year veteran of Healthy Start who feared that she'd lose county wages and benefits just as she approached retirement. I think the majority of us were pleased, said Glockler, who was notified last week that she'll soon be working at the Hanby Middle School health center in Gold Hill. I live in Gold Hill. I feel like Hank (Collins) worked hard to find something that worked for me.

Still, Glockler and others said they were sorry to see the Healthy Start program leave the county's jurisdiction.

It's hard because it's been a good, successful program, Glockler said. I hope that it works. It's pretty intense work not to get the pay and benefits.

Four local nonprofit agencies have indicated they'll apply for the two-year, &

36;780,000 Healthy Start contract, said Carin Niebuhr, chair of the Jackson County Commission on Children and Families, which administers the grant.

OnTrack Inc.; La Clinica del Valle; Community Works and The Family Nurturing Center, Jackson County Children's Crisis Relief Nursery ' all of Medford ' are expected to compete for all or part of the funding.

Bids are due Sept. 9; the new program should be running by November, Niebuhr said.

The commission is very focused on doing right by Healthy Start, she said.

Reach reporter JoNel Aleccia at 776-4465, or e-mail jaleccia@mailtribune.