ACA Blog

Jan 13, 2014

Does Unionizing Help Mental Health Counselors or not?

I found out that a statewide union is recruiting mental health professionals to join their organization. Their purpose is to advocate and to lobby for increased reimbursements from insurance companies and from the state’s Medicaid system. Though it sounds like a great idea to unionize us for increased pay, I disagree with the yearly fee to join.  I have ambivalent feelings about unions in general. I understand how they can help workers get better pay and benefits and reasonable work hours but I don’t agree with some of their tactics in getting them.

I remember a few years ago how this union tried to recruit counselors to join them.  One of their tactics was coming onto the work site unannounced by giving out flyers to counselors and to supervisors. The agency responded by making all interested clinicians salary employees with benefits but with strings attached. The big string was making productivity on a monthly basis or risk losing your benefits. I don’t agree with the agency’s policy that clinicians had to make up their productivity hours when they are sick or on vacation. This is just asinine and unreasonable. Anyway, twenty eight out of thirty clinicians including myself lost our salaries after six months. We lost our salaries and benefits when we could not make up the productivity hours lost when our clients no-showed; cancelled or dropped out unexpectedly. The two clinicians who retained their productivity achieved it by double booking and billing illegally. Of course, they were never caught while we “honest” counselors endured financial hardship by becoming fee for service clinicians instead. Furthermore, we clinicians decided to not become unionized after our salaries were taken away.

However, a few other clinic sites did become unionized a few months later. I don’t know if the union helped retain their salaries or not for the clinicians who were members. Ironically, three years later, those clinics closed when the top administration decided to restructure and to lay off staff. Though my agency was not unionized, twenty clinicians including myself were laid off.

Honestly, I don’t know if joining a union will actually help the profession. If agencies rely on insurance payments to stay in open, they can’t sustain being in business if their clients no-show; cancel or drop out for a variety of reasons. 

I would recommend that ACA seriously debate the idea of advocating for its members for increased pay and benefits on state and nationwide levels. Since majority of its members are faculty members with PhDs, and are unionized by being members of the American Association for University Professors, perhaps they can advise ACA on how to advocate for their members who don’t have tenure and secure jobs in academia. 
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Robbin Miller is a counselor who specializes in mindfulness meditation; Positive Psychology; and Cognitive-Behavioral Therapies; and is also a volunteer cable access producer and co-host of her show, "Miller Chat" in Massachusetts. 

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