After months of challenging a CSU decision to contract out counselor work at several campuses, next steps have arrived. 

The Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) issued a complaint against the CSU for violating the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA). Specifically, the PERB complaint sets out that the CSU violated HEERA by failing to notify CFA of its intention to contract out counselor work, failing to bargain in good faith over the decision to contract out, and interfering with members’ rights to CFA representation.

As reported in past editions of Headlines, Sacramento State and Cal Poly Humboldt entered into contracts with a company called TimelyMD to perform counseling services for students. CFA filed unfair practice charges for both instances, and the union is investigating other possible instances of contracting out on other CSU campuses. Counselors should be hired as employees by the CSU and be represented by CFA, and the CSU is undercutting counselors, the union, and students in its actions.

Despite the need, many CSU campuses have spent years disinvesting from permanent, tenure track counselors. At both Humboldt and Sacramento, 100 percent of counselors in the counseling centers are on temporary appointments, and it has been years since the CSU has hired permanent counselors at either campus. This ill-conceived management decision has led to perpetual turnover and difficulty for students who seek ongoing counseling services.

Apparently, Sacramento and Humboldt decided to look for an easy solution to the turnover problem by contracting with TimelyMD.

In the last round of bargaining, CFA raised counselor workload and counselor to student ratios. According to the accrediting body, International Accreditation of Counseling Services, the CSU should employ one counselor for every 1,000 to 1,500 students. The CSU does not do so on all campuses, as set out in this graphic.

“Retention of counselors is a huge problem at Cal State LA where the administration only hires temporary counselors. We’ve told administrators that if they want to keep counselors, they need to start hiring them on the tenure track and provide better management and supportive work conditions,” said Dr. Molly Talcott, CFA Los Angeles chapter faculty rights chair.

Dr. Talcott added that “San Diego State is getting it right by converting temporary counselors to the tenure track. You can’t hire counselors and then act like you don’t want them to stick around. It doesn’t work.”

Susan Chen, chair of CFA’s Counselors Committee, says she has tremendous concerns about contracting out.

“Ceding the hiring and vetting process of our counselors to a company like TimelyMD is a recipe for disaster,” said Chen. “The CSU will have no ability to monitor the quality of the mental health services provided to our students.”

The CFA Humboldt chapter has already begun to hear complaints from students about their experiences with TimelyMD.

Using companies like TimelyMD is no solution to the mental health needs of CSU students. TimelyMD operates like Uber or Grubhub, where business costs are shifted to employees with little accountability for quality of service or hiring standards.

On an ongoing basis, there is no guarantee of receiving services from the same counselor. Further, the CSU has no ability to evaluate contracted counselors or require that TimelyMD counselors complete the mandatory trainings on Gender Equity/Title IX and anti-discrimination and harassment policies required of all CSU faculty every year.

It is time for our campuses to invest in our students’ mental health by investing in our counseling centers.  That means hiring permanent counselors who are employed in the CSU to meet the needs of our students. 

While we hope that the CSU will do the right thing, CFA members expect its labor managers to put up a fight. The next steps in the PERB process include a mandatory settlement conference and a hearing over disputed facts. We will keep members posted on our efforts to protect student mental health and counselor work.

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