Behavioral Health Workers and AFSCME New Jersey Win Agreement on NLRB Cases Against SERV

The hardworking behavioral health employees of SERV Centers of New Jersey in Mercer and Middlesex Counties won critical victories in their multi-year fight for a first contract when the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) finalized an agreement detailing their employer’s violations of various labor laws. The workers and their union, AFSCME New Jersey Council 63, filed the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) due to SERV’s continued refusal to bargain in good faith with the residential counselors and maintenance workers who voted overwhelmingly for their union in November 2019.

The decisions issued by Administrative Law Judge Lauren Esposito for Region 2 found that SERV violated labor law by firing an employee, by not bargaining with their union around wage increases, by threatening to fire employees or withhold certain activities if they supported joining a union and more.

“This shows that every worker has a voice and companies can’t just take advantage of you and punish you for exercising that voice,” said Roosevelt Day, a residential counselor in Mercer County. “This is a huge win because it shows SERV can’t keep avoiding us, bargaining in bad faith and trying to get us to just shut up. We are not backing down and we will not stop until we have the contract we deserve.

A copy of the agreement can be found by clicking here.  

After winning their election to improve working conditions, staffing and consumer care, these essential workers have met unprecedented resistance by management. The NLRB previously rejected the employer’s attempts to throw out the election result and certified the union. Last month, workers rallied outside the 30th Annual Volley for SERV Tennis Tournament and Awards Reception, calling attention to the terrible conditions that they and the consumers they serve must endure. Last year, these front-line workers, who provide the critical mental, addition and behavioral services our communities desperately need, held a 24-hour unfair labor practice strike on Labor Day.

The agreement ensures that Mercer County staff will receive the same pay raise, with backpay and interest, that all other SERV employees received last year. SERV withheld the money to these employees to punish them for voting for a union voice. The agreement also provides Leon Johnson, a former Residential Senior Counselor in Middlesex County, with a high five-figure settlement of lost wages and backpay after they illegally terminated him on August 27, 2021

SERV is required to post, mail and hold meetings to publicize the agreement with AFSCME. Included in the notice are statement affirming the SERV cannot take away work benefits, including wage increases, in order to discourage union support; cannot promise benefits, such as employee appreciation events, for not supporting the union; cannot fire or threaten to fire employees for their union support and more.

On May 18, 2021, AFSCME New Jersey Council 63 invoked a new law which Governor Murphy signed in January 2021, requesting SERV to sign a labor harmony agreement that covers the organization’s part- and full-time workers statewide. SERV has not yet signed a labor harmony agreement, which is now a requirement for providing behavioral health and substance use disorder services on behalf of the State of New Jersey.

“It is far past time for the Governor to actually enforce a law he signed, and passed unanimously by the Legislature, so that we can hold employers like SERV accountable for their continued disregard for their own workers,” said AFSCME New Jersey Council 63 Director Steven Tully. “SERV has prioritized six-figure pay increases and five-figure bonuses for executives instead of using the record amount of state funding as intended - recruiting and retaining employees, improving services and even simply removing bats, mice or fixing leaking roofs.”