Workers at Soteria House in Burlington ratified their first collective bargaining agreement with their employer, Pathways Vermont, in late August.

Soteria House is a peer-run therapeutic residence. Its staff unionized in the summer of 2022, joining Local 1343 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Pathways voluntarily recognized the union.

According to an announcement by the Vermont State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the new three-year contract at Soteria House will boost pay for all its employees. For instance, it immediately increases the base wage for a full-time worker with one year or more of service from $16.32 to at least $20.50 per hour. Employees will receive additional 3.5% and 3% raises in the second and third years of the contract, respectively.

The agreement guarantees staffing ratios and imposes just cause termination standards. It also gives workers a stronger voice in the operations of the facility: the union’s steward will have an opportunity to join management’s weekly meetings, and the workers will have a right to form a joint labor-management committee. They’ll have a seat on hiring committees as well.

Eryn Sheehan, a peer support staffer and previous resident at Soteria House, told Counterpoint that employees’ desire for more control over their workplace had been a major reason for unionization.

“One of the big things that people wanted was more say in decision-making at the house, so it doesn’t always feel like the decision is being made elsewhere,” she said.

By Sheehan’s account, bargaining began in November 2022.

“It’s just been like a lot of back and forth with going over our proposal and then counter-proposals from their side and agreeing to certain elements, but the language needs to change. It’s a lot of details and minutia,” she said.

Unlike the Howard Center Union, the union at Soteria House will be able to collect “fair share” fees, which means that all workers, whether they choose to join the union or not, will pay dues.

The contract also paves the way to potential unionization for the rest of the Pathways workforce, who, it appears, will enjoy the same relatively uncomplicated process that their colleagues at Soteria House did. Pathways has reportedly committed in writing to continuing to recognize organizing efforts through “card check,” forgoing the additional requirement for a secret ballot election administered by the National Labor Relations Board.

“I’ve been really optimistic that the only reason there wasn’t already a union in place was because it’s just a young agency and they hadn’t gotten around to it yet,” Sheehan said.

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