Jewish Family Service finalizes a new proposed contract, after “contentious” labor negotiations

[UPDATE: July 1, 2010 – 3:10pm]

Following hours of heated negotiations on Tuesday, June 30, union representatives for employees at Jewish Family Service finalized the terms of a new labor contract, bargaining with JFS management.

JFS, a social service organization, provides help for the hungry, the homeless and other forms of aid to the Los Angeles community.

Julia Wells, vice president of AFSCME Local 800, the union that represents JFS employees, described the negotiations as “contentious” but expressed hope for ratification of the new contract’s terms.

If union members vote to accept the new contract – the vote is set to occur approximately two weeks from now; the union’s bylaw state that 15 days advanced notice must be given to union members before any vote – the terms will go into effect retroactively, starting July 1, 2010.

The JFS labor contract will last for three years.

The most contested issue concerned employee wages. Wells said that under the terms of the new contract, JFS employees regrettably would not receive any wage increase during the first year.

“Not getting a raise was really a disappointment. A wage increase is the number one most important thing to anyone.” Wells said.

Starting July 1, 2011, however, JFS employees would see a one-percent increase in wages, Wells said.

On July 1, 2012, there would be a wage reopener, in which “management and the union would sit down again and discuss what a wage increase might be,” Wells explained.

JFS employees earn $30,000 annually on average, according to Andrea Houtman, president of AFSCME Local 800, who spoke in a separate interview.

Houtman also noted a high and troubling disparity between employee and management salaries in Los Angeles’ non-profit sector.

(UPDATE: July 1, 2010 – 3:12pm) JFS spokesperson David Gershwin said full-time JFS employees earn $42,000 annually on average, based on figures from agency’s human resources department.

In a victory for JFS employees, under the new contract, JFS management offered a guarantee that employees would not face furloughs from July 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011.

The end of furloughs amounts to approximately a five-percent increase in JFS employee’ wages from what they earned in 2009.

Wells described one catch to the furlough ban: the new contract stipulates that starting July 1, 2011, JFS management can reinstate furloughs for one day each month. Management would have to show, however, that furloughs are in lieu of layoffs.

“No one is really excited about that prospect,” according to Wells. But she added that at least the union was able to negotiate an end to furloughs for one entire year.

Despite Wells’ disappointment with the lack of any wage increase for 2011 and JFS management’s insistence to reinstate furloughs after one fiscal year, she expressed understanding as to why management is being so frugal, citing the affect of the economic recession on JFS funds.

This is the third year that JFS is operating at a deficit, Wells explained.

(UPDATE: July 1, 2010 – 3:15pm) Gershwin of JFS said that JFS maintains the right to reinstate furloughs after one year, but that does not mean they will necessarily impose them.

“Economic circumstances and budgetary issues,” will determine management’s decision regarding furloughs from July 1, 2011 and on, Gershwin said.

Healthcare’s rising costs also played a significant role in contract negotiations. Alex Garas, a systems specialist with JFS and also a negotiating team member with AFSCME, said that with the new contract, the unionized employees of JFS made “good strides” in the amount JFS employees receive in healthcare benefits.

Under the new contract, JFS employers would increase their contribution to employees’ healthcare plans.

The union also negotiated an alternative workweek schedule for JFS employees, meaning that employees could work nine-hour days without incurring overtime and for only four days each week if they so desired.

Tuesday’s final negotiation follows ongoing discussions that have lasted one-and-a-half months, Houtman said.

The high stakes of the contract’s main points prompted approximately 30 Jewish agency employees and supporters to rally last week outside the Freda Mohr Multiservice Center of Jewish Family Service (JFS) on Fairfax Avenue. The demonstrators called for higher wages and for the end of managerial decision seen as infringing on basic workplace rights.

During the rally, JFS employees also accused Jewish agency executives of taking too high a pay at the expense of employees’ pay.

The decreases in pay “should be across the board, should include everybody,” said JFS employee Sandra Garland at last week’s rally.

Other JFS employees at the rally argued for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to step in and serve as a parental organization to smaller agencies, like JFS, and provide needed funds to the agencies.

AFSCME Local 800 must now bargain the terms of two other Jewish agency labor contracts. Both contracts remain on the table with open-ended extensions. One contract concerns employees of Jewish Vocation Services; the other is an umbrella contract for employees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, Jewish Bureau Education and the Jewish Community Foundation.

Houtman estimated that the union represents, between the six agencies, around 400 employees.