SERV Workers Hold Rally and Authorize Labor Day Strike

Last week, residential counselors and maintenance employees for SERV Centers of New Jersey in Mercer County held a rally for a fair contract. They are still without a contract as management continues to do everything possible to silence the voice of front-line behavioral health workers – even while they are central to helping our communities rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic.

And, after another session of SERV negotiating in bad faith, the workers gave notice that they will hold a 24-hour strike on Labor Day after 97% voted in favor. 

“SERV needs to be there for its employees as we have been there every day for the consumers,” said Tanije Cauthen, a residential counselor. “Having a union gives us a fighting chance to improve safety, improve the conditions for everyone and if we back down now then management will just keep pushing our concerns to the back burner. And we give them enough notice to make sure the consumers are not impacted.”

The rally and strike vote are the latest action workers have taken at work and in the community to try and gain a fair contract after overwhelming voting for their union almost two years ago. They have rallied, signed petitions, testified in front of the Legislature and more, and they will keep going until they gain the respect they deserve.

“I stand with you in support of your right to be represented by AFSCME and to have SERV negotiate a contract for fair pay, improved working conditions, and adequate staffing,” said Senate Majority Leader Steve Sweeney. “You should be treated with respect and appreciation. The work you do is difficult, demanding and vital. Greater support for workers will result in better care for consumers and a quality behavioral health system in Mercer County and New Jersey.”

Senator Sweeny was one of numerous elected officials from the Legislature and locals, along with more than a hundred of their AFSCME New Jersey Council 63 and District 1199J family.

“I love what I do but it is disheartening to know that your employer doesn’t respect who you are and doesn’t take care of the caretakers,” said Roosevelt Day, a residential counselor. “We are going to strike, we are going to keep fighting, because if not we will never be heard, and the consumers will continue to suffer from what SERV has become.” Senator Sweeney also pledged to hold behavioral health providers who receive state funds accountable when the legislature returns in the fall.

SERV’s actions underscore why the company is the very reason that labor peace legislation for behavioral health workers was passed unanimously by the Legislature and signed into law earlier this year.

“SERV’s misguided priorities have led to a staffing crisis of their own making. The State Legislature has allocated the record amounts of money to help providers like SERV improve consumer services including funds that were meant to go to frontline workers to help with recruiting and retaining employees” said AFSCME New Jersey Council 63 Director Steve Tully. “Instead, SERV’s priority has been to give their top executives six-figure pay increases and five figure bonuses while taking away bonuses for frontline workers and failing to improve pay and working conditions for frontline workers. Their failure to invest in the workforce is not good for anybody, especially the consumers.”