Delicate dance for nonprofits

By Deborah Morton-Padilla
As director of human resources for a publicly held company, I am
very aware of balancing customer expectations, shareholder demands,
and employee needs. This happens every day in our communities
within the free market system.
By Deborah Morton-Padilla

As director of human resources for a publicly held company, I am very aware of balancing customer expectations, shareholder demands, and employee needs. This happens every day in our communities within the free market system. But when shareholders are the community at large and the customers are vulnerable children and families, the dance is more delicate.

Community Solutions is the leading human services and mental health agency serving South County. As chairperson of the board of directors, I am pleased with the recent contract agreement reached between our employee’s union SEIU 715 and the management of Community Solutions. I believe the contract is fair to our employees and equally as important, is fiscally responsible for the health of the organization, and ultimately, our clients. But first, let’s acknowledge that union negotiations are never easy, and that the very nature of the bargaining process dictates that each side needs to give and get. That is what happened during our negotiations.

The union accepted management’s proposal to cap health care costs at the Kaiser HMO rate. This became vital after the agency had to absorb significant increases for several years from Blue Cross, 45 percent last year alone. Employees now have the option of buying up to the higher Blue Cross premium at their own expense and we can control our health care costs in a way we had been unable to do. Management offered a 1 percent pay increase funded entirely from the health care savings, still leaving a tremendous savings for the agency’s bottom line.

I deal with compensation packages for a living and they require a prudent balancing act, especially in this volatile business climate. Staff at Community Solutions has not received a pay increase since 2000 that wasn’t funded through a reduction in benefits. Unfortunately, this is now the reality in which we do business. However, we recognize that the high quality and responsive services and programs we provide are only as effective as the talented and dedicated staff we employ. Staff’s total compensation package at Community Solutions makes us competitive in recruiting and retaining talented employees. I believe our agreement offered creative solutions that demonstrate our commitment to our employees in a fiscally responsible way.

This commitment and responsibility is paramount in every relationship we have – with the community, our donors and funders, and ultimately, with our clients. As we have done for the past 33 years, we will continue to provide programs and services so teen parents will learn to build healthy relationships with their babies, rape survivors will hear a caring voice on the crisis line, battered women and their children will have a peaceful home, teenagers will create positive futures and abused children will learn to heal. Last year we helped more than 13,000 individuals make positive changes in their lives and become more self-reliant.

It is no secret that funding cuts and the sluggish economy continue to impact the non-profit sector. At the same time, the cost of doing business has escalated. Along with rising health care costs, our workers compensation premium increased nearly 400 percent in the past three years. Unlike a for-profit business, we cannot pass costs onto consumers.

Nonetheless, we’re encouraged. As a result of the negotiations process, there is now a better understanding from the union of our non-profit business model, willingness on both sides to partner in lobbying funding sources, and a desire for constructive dialogue to continue throughout the year. This is extremely positive, because together we can better serve those who need us now.

Guest columnist Deborah Morton-Padilla is the chairperson of Community Solutions. Anyone interested in writing a guest column may contact Editor Mark Derry at 842-6400.

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