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MERCER Women's advocacy agency directors, staff still at odds



Published: Fri, August 24, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The employees filed a grievance and will meet again with the board Sept. 6.

By HAROLD GWIN

VINDICATOR SHARON BUREAU

MERCER, Pa. -- The board of directors and disgruntled staff of Alternatives for Women: Advocacy, Resources & amp; Education had a productive meeting Thursday, but the staffers are still not back at work.

The closed-door meeting, which lasted nearly four hours, was at the AW/ARE office in Coolspring Township and dealt with concerns 11 staff members raised when they walked off their jobs July 14.

The board and staffers issued a joint statement after the meeting, saying it was productive, but declined to offer any specifics.

The statement said only that a grievance had been filed, along with documentation, and that the board is now reviewing it. Another meeting for more talks has been scheduled for Sept. 6, according to the statement.

Meanwhile, the 11 staff members are not going back to work, said Candace Blake, direct service supervisor for the sexual and domestic abuse and violence agency. Blake is one of those withholding services.

The walkout left AW/ARE with only three regular staff members. They and some volunteers have managed to keep the agency's emergency hot line open, but counseling services have generally been referred to other agencies.

Shut down shelter: The loss of staff also shut down AW/ARE's emergency women and children's shelter. People needing shelter are being helped by agencies in Lawrence and Crawford counties.

Blake didn't indicate when the staff might return.

Although problems surfaced publicly just last week, Blake said the staff has been expressing concerns about breaches of agency policies and procedures for some time.

Confidentiality has been compromised, communications between management and staff have been unclear, and leadership and direction have been undependable, the disgruntled staffers said in a letter asking the board for a meeting.

The staff also has indicated it has no confidence in the agency's executive director, Leah Koon, who went on medical leave the day before the employees walked out.

gwin@vindy.com




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