DENVER — Dozens of Mental Health Center of Denver employees, alongside fellow members of Service Employees International Union Local 105, held a rally Saturday afternoon, demanding MHCD agrees to a contract with better pay and benefits.
“Mental health right now is a really serious problem, and it’s a problem for us as workers as well. We’re tired, we’re burnt out, we’re overworked and underpaid. We’re underappreciated,” MHCD license clinical social worker Hillary Haspel said.
She’s on the bargaining team, fighting for a wage scale and hazard pay, among other things. The contract between the union and the company ended on Jan. 1. Negotiations have been ongoing since October 2020.
“There’s a joke at MHCD among the employees that you could leave, come back and you’d make more money, and it’s just not working for us anymore,” Haspel said.
The pandemic has increased mental health workers’ caseload, and they say they want to be treated fairly for their hard work.
“We all love our job, we all love our community, but we also need to pay our bills,” a woman shouted at the rally.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Candice Rae Vigio. She says she only makes about $16 an hour despite being the vocational supervisor for MHCD’s culinary program.
“If I wasn’t married right now, I would not be able to even live in Colorado because we have a two-income household,” she said.
Vigio was once a client of MHCD and sought help for her mental health after suffering from trauma that oftentimes prevented her from participating in social gatherings.
“MHCD actually helped me and boosted me into teaching me wellness, teaching me healthy eating and teaching me all these things that I needed,” she said.
Now, she’s giving back, but she wants the company to treat its employees as well as it does its clients.
“We’re working to help people’s mental health, but our own wellness and our own mental health are not being looked at or appreciated as individuals,” Vigio said.
In response to Saturday’s rally, the president and CEO of Mental Health Center of Denver, Carl Clark, provided the following statement:
“The Mental Health Center of Denver values our hardworking, compassionate staff who are dedicated to improving the well-being of our community. We are proud that despite facing substantial unplanned COVID-related costs and lost revenues, no employees have been laid off, there have been no required furlough days and we’ve continued to pay employees who could not work their full schedules due to COVID-19 issues, such as school or facility closures.
The Mental Health Center of Denver has a strong record advocating for more pay for mental health workers to achieve parity with all health care workers. We are committed to fair and equitable salaries and offer employee compensation that is in line or above the industry average. We have been in negotiations for five months and will continue to work in good faith that a fair agreement will soon be reached.”