HowardCenter and Other Provider Agencies Working Against the Best Interests of Their Direct Care Workers 05/09/2014

MONTPELIER - The leader of an organization of the HowardCenter and 15 other providers of developmental and behavioral health-care services in Vermont is working overtime in Montpelier right now to convince legislators to strip language in the budget that would mandate a 2% increase for direct care workers.

As lawmakers are working to finalize the state’s FY2015 budget, Julie Tessler, Executive Director of the Vermont Council of Developmental and Mental Health Services, Inc., is calling for the elimination of language that would require organizations like the Howard Center to provide workers with an increase “proportionate” to a 2% Medicaid funding increase proposed in the budget. 

Tessler and the Howard Center want the 2% increase.  But they want to decide how to use the money. “It’s in the best interest of the people we serve that we be able to make decisions like that,” Tessler told Vermont Digger  in a May 7 article on the issue.
If history is any indication, those types of “decisions” that Tessler is referring to rarely benefit direct care workers.  According to 2010 and 2011 federal tax filings by the Howard Center, Executive Director Todd Centybear’s annual salary jumped 28% in just one year going from $163,686 to $210,517.  The huge salary increase was handed to Centybear even though the organization’s total revenue only increased by about 5% during that period.  It’s important to note that in addition to running the HowardCenter, Centybear is the President of the Board of Directors of Tessler’s organization. Tessler also enjoyed a nice pay increase according to her organization’s 2010 and 2011 federal tax filings, her salary jumped 6.5% during that period to $97,972.  Her salary for that year accounted for about one quarter of the organization’s total revenue.  

“We’re disgusted but not surprised that HowardCenter leadership would be part of an effort to deny their workers a modest portion of a state funding increase,” said Mark Bernard, the Special Assistant to Council 93 Executive Director Frank Moroney.  “This latest move is consistent with previous efforts by management and part of a longstanding pattern of disrespect for the women and men who provide high-quality direct care to thousands of individuals and families.”  

AFSCME formally requested Howard Center’s tax returns from 2012 and 2013 on April 4.  The information request, sent to Howard Center Director of Operations Lorraine Jenne, has yet to be honored.  

Meanwhile an AFSCME lawsuit  that would force the Howard Center to pay workers a long overdue 3% pay increase continues to move forward in Vermont Superior Court.  Unfair Labor Practices filed by AFSCME against the Howard Center are also proceeding before the National Labor Relations Board.
Fortunately, the AFSCME members working for the HowardCenter continue to build the strength of their local on a daily basis.  The number of dues paying members in the Local has nearly tripled over the past seven months.   By increasing the number of active members of the union, the workers stand a far better chance of securing better wages, benefits and working conditions.