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A person dials 911 on Sunday, April 28.

Nation’s first mental health responders sign union contract

The Albuquerque Community Safety department secured their first collective bargaining agreement with their union in March. The department cited lack of support for employee well-being, stability and mental health, according to ACS Agency Vice President and bargaining committee member Crystal Little.

The Union represents the first government agency in the nation that sends first responders with backgrounds in mental health to non-violent calls, according to Sherii Miera, an ACS behavioral health responder and bargaining committee member. Responders are dispatched through 911 calls, Miera said.

“One of our main goals throughout has been to focus on the safety and well-being of the responders and ensuring that our voices are heard,” Little said.

The Union first organized in 2022. Their main goal is to work with the City of Albuquerque to establish consistent safety procedures and attain first responder status, Little said.

“We don't quite have (first responder) status yet. When there have been incidents where a responder is assaulted or a responder is unsafe for whatever reason, we don't have that security, knowing that there is going to be something that's followed through and knowing that we're going to have the legal support necessary,” Little said.

In incidents of assault, first responders are supported by the city through procedures that label the incident as “assault upon a health care worker,” according to New Mexico statute 30-3-9.2. ACS employees lack the City’s support if an assault were to happen, Miera said.

In March, the union that represents ACS – the Communication Workers of America – and CABQ reached a collective bargaining agreement. The agreement established that ACS employees do not have to pay for any necessary emergency transport if they are injured on the job.

The agreement also established labor-management committee meetings between department administration and the Union. The meetings create an open dialogue that could solve concerns between the two parties, Miera said.

“We'll have a brainstorming session of, ‘This is the problem we're seeing, this is what we need, this is the ideas we have, how to fix it,’ and then work back and forth on what we can agree to,” Miera said. “The management and admin were willing to give us the ability to go into these meetings and speak about things that are management rights, so that it can better build morale, and help the cohesiveness between the Department all the way around.”

The agreement also allocated increased pay to employees working the swing shift – the shift between the day and night shift – or the night shift. ACS responds to incidents 24/7, and each shift has its own difficulties, Miera said

“Into the afternoon and then night shift … if somebody’s calling because they’re having a mental health crisis, it’s probably more imminent than necessarily somebody that has more options during the day to reach out to somebody else,” Miera said.

One of the goals of the Union is to ensure employees are properly trained, given the uncertainty they face responding to each call, Little said.

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“We do encounter individuals who are not thinking clearly that may not be the most stable in the moment. They may not be creating a situation that is safe for themselves or for the people around them, which means that we don’t know what we’re walking into,” Little said.

ACS administration and CABQ supported the effort to unionize, according to Jeffery Bustamante, admin and policy deputy director at ACS. In a March 11 post to the Union’s website, Little wrote that the unionizing process was met with “many obstacles from the city.”

“During the contract negotiations and the unionizing, there was a lot of contention, a lot of animosity, a lot of negativity between the Union and admin,” Miera said. “However, after the contract, we have taken a breath. This is happening, this is not going away, we are here.”

Lily Alexander is the news editor for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @llilyalexander

Nate Bernard is a beat reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo


Lily Alexander

 Lily Alexander is the 2024-2025 Editor of the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at editorinchief@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @llilyalexander 

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