Kathie Eilers, the on-again-off-again mental health administrator, resigned Monday as liaison to the newly created Milwaukee County Mental Health Board, saying her expertise is no longer required.
County Executive Chris Abele, who appointed the 70-year-old former administrator to the board in May, said he knew her term would be a “finite engagement.”
Eilers released a statement saying that she enjoyed her time working with the board, and that her resignation would be effective Dec. 19.
County Board members, who have been quick to criticize the Mental Health Board since its inception last spring, say the move is a sign of turmoil on the new board.
“There are some very good people on the board, but it is in disarray,” County Board Supervisor Patricia Jursik said. “The way the whole board was set up has been problematic from the beginning.”
The board was created by state law — it passed the state Senate and Assembly by a combined vote of 122-1 — after a Journal Sentinel investigation showed hundreds of people with severe mental illness suffered and died as County Board members ignored decades of calls for reform.
The law requires the new board to be made up of medical professionals and people with mental illness. Their goal is to transition mental health care in Milwaukee County from services mainly provided at the county psychiatric hospital to more programs in the community.
County Board members have sharply criticized the new board for passing a budget in late August without holding public comment, calling it “taxation without representation.”
The mental health budget is included in the overall county budget submitted by Abele — an elected official. The County Board approved the overall budget Monday. By law, the board cannot change the amount in the mental health budget.
Abele said Monday the numbers are moving in the right direction since the new board was established, with fewer emergency room visits and better outcomes for patients.
“I never said this new board would be perfect,” Abele said. “But it’s a vast improvement on what we had for decades. Does anyone really want the County Board to be running mental health again?”
The debate comes as administrators grapple with ways to provide care amid a shrinking workforce.
John Schneider, the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division’s executive medical director, sent a memo last week detailing the reduction of inpatient beds at the county’s Mental Health Complex while the administration works to recruit more employees.
“We will be instituting new census caps for use to better, safer and more efficaciously manage our duty to care for patients,” he said.
Pat Schroeder, the BHD administrator, told Mental Health Board members in an email last week that she and her staff were working hard to meet the demands to ensure patient safety.
“The challenges of the recent weeks have demonstrated that we need to take different actions to assure quality and safety,” Schroeder said.
The county’s Mental Health Complex has been cited more than 182 times by federal and state administrators for code violations in the past 10 years, 30% more than at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals for criminal offenders.
A doctor who examined medical records of six patients who died at the complex in 2012 found that basic medical care was lacking in four of the cases, contributing to their deaths.
The county recruited and trained 14 registered nurses in the past three months, only to have 14 other nurses resign.
The BHD, with 585 employees, is one of the county’s largest departments. Those who work there are considered county employees, but the budget is overseen by the Mental Health Board and not the County Board.
Mental Health Board members have called a special meeting at 10 a.m. Nov. 19 to discuss what duties they and the BHD staff should be performing. The meeting will be in the auditorium at the Milwaukee Public Schools Central Services Building, 5225 W. Vliet St., to allow easy access for the public to attend and comment.
Eilers, a nurse, retired from the county in 2003 after nearly 20 years, including about a decade as behavioral health administrator, with a pension of $4,056 a month. Abele named her as the head of the BHD in 2013, but the County Board rejected her appointment.
Her job with the Mental Health Board paid $75 an hour, and she worked roughly 26 hours a week.
At the September 6, 2014, membership meeting, a new SEIU Local 1 Executive Board was elected and sworn in. The slate of nominees was uncontested and the new board members were voted in by acclamation at every SEIU Local 1 membership meeting across our six states. We look forward to the new Executive Board’s leadership. You can read the list of the current board officers and members.
We also celebrate the years of service that the outgoing board members dedicated to their SEIU Local 1 brothers and sisters. Be sure to thank these leaders for all that they have done for working families in the Midwest.
“We need a strong economy that works for all—not just the wealthy few. Chicago should be the next big city to pay workers the wages they need to provide a decent life for themselves and a better one for their children.” Tom Balanoff, SEIU Local 1 President
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The Stevens Point Board of Education officially made the law firm Boardman & Clark its primary law firm at the Monday, Aug. 11, meeting.
The board agreed that if special circumstances arise it will be able to call on other firms but the district should make an effort to use the primary law firm first in all cases possible.
All members except for Chris Scott voted in favor of Boardman & Clark. The other choices were Davis & Kuelthau and Weld, Reilly, Prenn & Ricci. The Business Services Committee select these three firms from the six that responded to a Request for Proposal (RFP).
An RFP for legal services was sent out after the June 9 meeting when board member Jeff Presley said he was concerned about the amount of money the district was spending on attorneys. The RFP was sent to 18 firms, and the three were invited to the Monday meeting for presentations.
“I have been involved with the Stevens Point school district since 1997,” said Michael Julka, the representative from Boardman & Clark who spoke at the meeting. “I have represented the district since that time. I appreciate the role we have played and I would like to continue that role.”
The firm currently represents 90 school districts as well as the School Board Association. The firm has 12 attorneys and one paralegal in its school law practice group, as well as additional attorneys in other fields that it can use for school district issues.
The board has not had an official primary law firm in the past, but rather has used the services of multiple firms simultaneously. Davis & Kuelthau has been used by the board most frequently up to this point.
“I am looking for consistency first of all with the firm that we handle,” said board member Jeff Presley. “For the main stay of the district’s business we should pick a firm whom we feel comfortable with not only as a board but also for our superintendent to use. That is our responsibility by our own policies.”
The board did discuss whether or not it wanted to continue using multiple firms but found wording in its policies that suggest it should have one primary law firm.
“I think a lot of the reason we end up using two law firms is because an opinion will come to this board and the board doesn’t like it,” said board member Jeff Ebel. “So you go get a second opinion.”
CleanPower contract renewed
The School Board renewed its contract with the janitorial contracting service CleanPower for the remainder of the fiscal year, which will end in June of 2015.
The decision came after several delays and contract extensions so the board could consider other options. Several board members have received complaints about CleanPower. The board asked the administration in April to present other options beside CleanPower for janitorial services.
The administration came back in July and presented options to hire district employees to replace CleanPower, but warned the board it would not be able to afford sustaining the salary of all district employees.
The board delayed the contract again in July, asking for more time to consider the budget before making a decision.
“We have been dealing with this issue for months, you have been delaying your decision and now we have kids coming in two weeks,” said Thomas Owens, director of business services. “No matter what you decide, we can’t do something in a week or two very effectively. From an administrative logistical aspect, it’s impossible to hire that many people in this short of time and be ready by Sept. 2.”
Board Member Patricia Baker said she did not want to hire CleanPower again but would be willing to do so until she could have a better understanding of the budget and have time to send out a new RFP for other contractors.
“We kind of left this up to the administration over and over,” said board member Kim Shirek. “We and the community said we do not want CleanPower in (our schools). They should have come up with some other opportunities. I suggested from day one when our community didn’t want CleanPower in there that we go with a different service.”
In the past several months four other schools have discontinued their contracts with CleanPower including, Waukesha County Technical College, Lakeshore Technical College, Turtle Lake School District and Fond Du Lac School District.
“We weren’t happy with the recommendation, we asked the administration to come back to us with different alternatives,” said board member Lisa Totten. “There is no way I am going to support this.”
CleanPower president Jeffrey Packee spoke Monday.
“I am not going to stand up here and defend ourselves, we are going to stand on our record,” said Packee. “We do a very good job with you, we are very flexible with you, with positions times, shifts and everything else.”
The Business Services Committee will meet in September and discuss alternatives to CleanPower. The district can terminate its contract with 30 days’ notice if it so chooses.
More than 700 SEIU Local 1 members and supporters shared what was important to them and how our union can improve in our 2014 Member and Supporter Survey.
The most important issues to participants were creating good jobs that can support a family and reducing income inequality in our country. The aspects of their jobs they most want to improve are their wages, your retirement benefits and your healthcare.
Local 1 members and supporters are fighting to achieve all of these goals.
Participants – mostly members – described the SEIU Local 1 mission in their own words, but many used the same ones. Words like lead, fight, help, strengthen, organize, advocate and build. SEIU Local 1 members and supporters do all of those things every day without tiring.
As a union and as a country, we face a lot of challenges. Working together is the only way to win better wages and benefits and start addressing income inequality in our country. SEIU Local 1 understands that we are all striving for the same goal and together we can realize it.
Check out the survey results—and thank you for staying connected.
The Stevens Point Area Public School District Board will work to decide if it should sign another contract with CleanPower, a janitorial service, or look for services elsewhere. The current contract expires June 30.CleanPower presented the board with a contract Monday, March 31, but the board declined signing it on the grounds that the contract was incomplete and that more time is needed to consider other options. CleanPower will return at the April 14 meeting with a completed contract to seek the board’s approval.
Board member Jeff Presley said he was not comfortable signing a contract with many blank spaces on it.
Superintendent Atilla Weninger suggested the board sign the contract, contingent on their satisfaction with it at the next meeting. He said after the contract is signed the board has 30 days to terminate it. That option was voted down.
Kim Shirek said she has received more than 20 emails from community members complaining about CleanPower.
“I would like to see us change and go to another company and not do a five-year contract,” Shirek said. “I am hoping the board will look at all the emails we have received and not hire them (CleanPower) for another five years.”
Board member Bob Larson said it was not in the budget to change the program.
“We know we can’t afford to have a contract go away, we went through the RFP process like we were supposed to do and CleanPower came up first based on dollars and points,” said Bob Larson. “What do you want to do? Eliminate CleanPower? We can’t sustain it.”
The district uses a mix of contracted employees from CleanPower and its own custodial positions to clean the schools. The district keeps a mix of 60 percent district custodians and 40 percent contracted from CleanPower. By using contracted employees, the district saves approximately $1 million annually.
At the Dec. 16 board meeting, an anonymous document entitled “Daily Issues with CleanPower at SPASH” was presented to the board. The list included things such as exterior doors left unlocked, interior doors left unlocked, resulting in alarms being set off; missing tools, keys and food; locker rooms not cleaned and disinfected; employee turnover; smoking on campus; and late arrival and early leaving. The letter addressed 17 items in total and the board asked that administration respond to the problems.
Thomas Owens, the director of business services, reported back to the board Monday regarding the list of issues.
“We found no facts to substantiate or support the notion that any such things have occurred on a daily basis,” Owens said
Owens interviewed the custodial staff and addressed each of the issues mentioned on the list. Owens said some of the issues listed were too vague and unsubstantiated to address. He cited many of the issues as having occurred once or twice, but said they were dealt with at the time of the occurrence.
One issue not refuted was the high employee turnover.
“The frequency of turnover of CleanPower staff does vary,” Owens said. “Sometimes several people are replaced and at other time periods not so much.”
Regarding this list Weninger said he needs to make a decision based on facts as best as we can get them from the providers.
“I cannot not make a decision based on rumor and innuendo,” Weninger said
Several members of the public spoke at the March 11 board meeting, stating the board should not sign another contract with CleanPower.
Dave Somerscales, a representative from Service Employees International Union Local 1, a labor union based in Milwaukee, attended the March 11 and 31 meetings to speak against CleanPower.
“CleanPower has many accounts, they are paying poverty wages,” Somerscales said. “That brings down the cleaning standard for everybody when you set the bar so low. We wanted to make sure the school board and the surrounding community understood this is not a good company to do business with. This is about accountability and transparency.”
A representative from CleanPower declined to comment at the meeting but agreed to make a statement afterward.
“CleanPower has been engaged in a successful partnership with the Stevens Point school district for the past 10 years,” said Jana Rusk, vice president of human resources and safety for CleanPower. “This relationship has been consistently successful due to our strong local managers, extensive pre-employment background checks, ongoing training and development and our continued focus on safety.”
Fast food workers began organizing a little under one year ago, kicking off a national movement with strikes in New York City and Chicago in April of 2013. Other cities quickly followed suit, with fast food and retail workers walking off the job in Milwaukee, St. Louis, Detroit, and more, demanding a higher minimum wage and the right to organize a union. Less than a year later, on December 5, 2013, the largest fast food strike in history occurred. Workers in over 100 cities walked off their jobs, picketed their employers, and called for a $15 minimum wage.
“It’s okay! We got your back!” Local 1 members from Chicago called out to workers at the McDonald’s at Chicago & Damen. The call has become a rallying cry for the movement, which seeks to empower long-ignored fast food workers. Local 1 Members stood side-by-side with the striking McDonald’s workers, many of who are paid just $8.25 after years of dedicated service.
“I am involved with the fast food campaign to better the economy for everyone,” says St. Louis member Wesley Reed. “[To fix the economy] we have to start from the bottom, not from the top.”
Members from Detroit, St. Louis, and Milwaukee all took part in the nationwide day of action, standing in solidarity with fast food workers across the nation. History was made last week, and it came less than a week after the massive Black Friday protests staged at Wal-Mart locations throughout the country. These monumental actions have brought income inequality to the forefront of the national conversation—an important step in repairing our damaged economy.
Stay informed on what is happening across your local.
“ABM is a national, multi-million dollar corporation. But SEIU is national too. Every SEIU city across the country is help to win this fight, not just for Columbus but for all hardworking people everywhere! “
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This weekend’s episode of Moyers & Company and next week’s Frontline special Two American Families both tell the story of the Stanleys and the Neumanns, two Milwaukee families that Bill has been following since the breadwinners in each lost their well-paid factory jobs in 1990.
These Wisconsinites are part of a broader picture, representative of trends that effect many Americans. For nearly half a century, the Great Lakes region — Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Illinois, once at the core of America’s industrial belt — has been experiencing a continuing, dramatic decline in manufacturing. In the early 1980s, the bottom fell out.
Middle class workers and the poor in the region were hit particularly hard as median incomes dropped, particularly in cities. It’s not uncommon for cities to have lower median incomes than the state on the whole, but in many cities in the Great Lakes region, the gap is significant. In Milwaukee, median household income is only 68 percent of the Wisconsin average. Other cities in the area have even more significant gaps: Detroit and Cleveland both have median incomes of only 57 percent of their states’ averages.
At the same time, income inequality increased, with the already-wealthy pulling away from lower- and middle-income workers.
Some sectors of Milwaukee’s economy are growing, and new jobs are coming to the city. But the low pay for workers in these areas of growth makes it difficult to get by. The chart below compares average wages in these growing industries to the amount needed for a reasonable standard of living in Milwaukee as calculated by the nonprofit group Wider Opportunities for Women. Their standard for basic economic security takes into account expenses that the federal poverty line doesn’t, including housing, utilities, child care, transportation, health care, household goods, emergency and retirement savings and taxes.
Today, many of those living in the city are impoverished. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction found that 83.5 percent of children in Milwaukee Public Schools qualify for free or reduced price school lunches, an indicator of child poverty. That’s the highest rate in the state. The surrounding suburbs have some of the lowest rates in the state.*
A study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found that overwhelmingly, the city’s working poor households are headed by a single parent, usually a mother. These families were hit particularly hard by the Great Recession, and often fall far short of achieving a comfortable standard of living. Many struggle even to break the poverty line.
A separate study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee showed a growing disparity in employment between African American and white working men. Milwaukee has often been cited as one of the most segregated cities in the country, and many primarily-black sections of Milwaukee now have employment rates among working-age males below 50 percent.
*Child poverty (as measured by free or reduced-price lunches) has also increased statewide. See this graphic for more.
150 janitors and supporters from labor, community and faith groups rallied in front of BMO Harris Bank’s headquarters in Chicago to protest the poverty wages and lack of benefits that the cleaning contractor hired by BMO Harris provides. Janitors who clean their Milwaukee Bank argue that BMO Harris is contributing to the cycle of poverty by hiring a janitorial company that provides substandard poverty wage jobs.
Keiara Fry, a CleanPower Janitor who believes she was fired for speaking out about work conditions, said, “With the little money that CleanPower pays us to clean BMO, I had to rely on government assistance to make ends meet. We deserve better.”
BMO reported making $975 million in profits in their second quarter; in 2012 BMO made more than $4 billion. Despite soaring profits, BMO Harris contracts CleanPower, a janitorial contractor that pays their employees only about $9,000 a year without benefits or affordable health care to clean their Milwaukee building.
Reverend C. J. Hawking, who attended the rally in support of the Milwaukee janitors, said, “We are deeply disappointed with BMO Harris. If Janitors who clean BMO in Chicago can earn a living wage with affordable health care and benefits, why are janitors who clean BMO in Milwaukee paid poverty wages.”
In contrast, the janitors at BMO’s Headquarters in Chicago are employed by a responsible janitorial contractor and are paid almost twice as much and have employer provided health insurance. They will join the protest in support of the Milwaukee custodians and community supporters as they urge BMO Harris Bank to help create good family sustaining jobs for Milwaukee, which has the 4th highest poverty rate in the country.