CMH employees receive cost-of-living wage increase

CENTREVILLE — Employees at Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services of St. Joseph County (CMH) will be getting a little more cash in their pockets in the very near future.

On Tuesday, June 28, the CMH board voted to give employees a one-time cost-of-living payment of $2,500 for full-time staff and $1,250 for part-time staff. It was part of an ask by the employees’ union for a wage adjustment, part of the union’s contract.

Originally, the ask was for $2,000 for full time and $1,000 for part-time, but was increased after discussion among board members about some of the money being taken out of taxes.

According to CEO Cameron Bullock, CMH currently has a Medicaid surplus of $3.3 million, what he noted as the highest surplus the agency has had in recent years, with any unused money having to be returned to Southwest Michigan Behavioral Health and not being able to be utilized in a new fiscal year. He said he was in favor of the union’s ask for a number of reasons, the biggest being the impact on lower-income employees.

“We have staff here who are making in that $14-17 range. Those are our peer supports, our receptionists of that nature. The $2,000 has a bigger impact for the staff that are lower-wage income earners,” Bullock said. “I think $2,000 is great for everybody regardless, but my main concern is when you look at energy prices raising 34 percent, gas prices going up, food items going up in price, they’re the ones who are suffering the most.”

The original employee payments would’ve cost CMH around $184,000, with the increases taking that total north of $200,000. Board Vice Chair Kathy Pangle led the charge for the higher payments of $2,500 and $1,250.

“They’re not going to end up with $2,000, because they’re going to take taxes out of that. I suggested at our executive meeting we give the full $2,500 and part-time $1,250 because if we don’t spend any of it, it’s going back. So, we might as well give our employees some of this,” Pangle said.

The last time staff members received a cost-of-living payment like this was in 2015.

Board member Cathi Abbs said she agreed with the rationale behind the increases, saying there have been higher real costs for families in a number of different areas in recent times. Board member Sandy Hall asked if there could be an employee retention clause included with the money where they’d sign an agreement to stay on staff for a certain period of time, but the idea was ultimately shot down.

“I think when we look at the partners in our region, we’re doing fantastic with our open positions – we currently have two, while our partners have 14 or 15,” Bullock said. “I think a lot of it is in part because we decided to change the wages to help the staff out. I think a lot of it is because we help with benefits of the staff. I would like to believe I’m correct in that, because of what you guys have been doing is why staff want to stay.”

Other board members agreed that there didn’t need to be a retention clause attached to the additional money.

“It’s my opinion that we wanted a total positive thing without strings attached,” Board Chair Rick Shaffer said.

“I just think it’s a good-faith gesture, and I think it’s hopefully a way to help the communication lines stay open,” Board Member Carol Naccarato said.

Bullock added the one-time payments will be dealt with separately from wage negotiations for next year’s collective bargaining agreement with the employee union, since the CMH’s budget is currently in the works.

The cost-of-living increase was approved unanimously by the board.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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