Lawrence Community Shelter union workers demand improved wages, support

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Lawrence City Commission set to consider agreement with shelter on Tuesday

Workers at Lawrence’s shelter for community members experiencing homelessness are demanding higher pay, cohesive benefits and better support in their work.


Lawrence Community Shelter workers are now official members of the Communication Workers of America Local 6400 labor union, and they announced their bargaining demands in a news release Monday.

The workers, who have named their branch of the union Lawrence Shelter Workers United, are pushing for higher pay — specifically $30 per hour — as well as job security, paid time off and ceremonial time off for Indigenous employees. They’re also requesting health care, dental and vision coverage. The lowest-paid shelter employees currently make $16.25 per hour, according to information discussed during a recent shelter board meeting.

“An increase to our wages and improvements to our benefits will mean that we can provide even better care and support to community members experiencing homelessness,” Jacob Schmill, a unionized direct service advocate at the shelter, said in the release.

The shelter is now under a shared governance model with the City of Lawrence and Douglas County, and the city has pushed for the shelter to expand its capacity significantly for the winter months. 

Members of the Lawrence Community Shelter Board of Directors on Dec. 7 began discussing a proposed staffing plan and were set to continue that conversation Monday. Preliminary numbers that Misty Bosch-Hastings, homeless programs coordinator for the City of Lawrence, showed the board indicated that the shelter will likely seek approximately $2.1 million from the city for its 2024 operations. 

The Lawrence City Commission’s agenda for its Tuesday, Dec. 19 meeting as of Monday evening still included X’s as placeholders for the exact dollar amounts that the shelter will seek.

Bosch-Hastings presented a proposed budget that included a staffing structure for the Lawrence Community Shelter to run its facility on the eastern edge of town as well as operating the city’s Pallet shelter village on North Michigan Street.

Melanie Valdez, interim executive director of the shelter, at the shelter board’s Dec. 14 meeting presented her ideal staffing structure for the shelter. She recommended one fewer administrative position and, instead, more frontline workers to engage with shelter guests and ensure safety.

The Lawrence Community Shelter is the only year-round emergency shelter serving people experiencing homelessness in Lawrence and Douglas County. Dean Robinson, a shelter worker and CWA Local 6400 member, said he and his fellow staff members are underpaid in comparison to city workers at the city-sanctioned campsite in North Lawrence and at other homeless service programs.

“Many of our staff struggle to pay bills and we’re frequently burnt out from the work we already do,” Robinson said in the news release. “If we’re supposed to be helping significantly more people we need higher pay.”

Shelter staff are also demanding a higher quality of living for all shelter residents. That would entail “adequate and nutritional food, funding for access to programs for residents outside of the shelter, on-call 24/7 crisis counselors, adequate medical care and an increase in safety measures,” according to the release.

More kitchen staff are needed to keep up with food preparation as the shelter’s capacity increases, too, according to the union. 

Workers want to ensure that the shelter board bargains with them regarding changes to their wages and working conditions, as required by the National Labor Relations Act’s administrative regulations, according to the release.

“The board has not directly reached out to me about the demands but they have received a request to set up a date to request bargaining dates and some board members have responded acknowledging that we will have to begin the bargaining process before decisions are made regarding staffing, duties, pay and benefits,” Bella Kurtz, inreach case manager and CWA Local 6400 member, said via email Monday evening.

Shelter staff members indicated they plan to rally at the city commission’s Tuesday meeting. 

The Lawrence City Commission will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St. to discuss the agreement with the shelter, among other issues. View the full agenda at this link

Meetings are open to the public and livestreamed on the city’s YouTube page,

People may submit written comments to the commissioners until noon the day of the meeting by emailing People may also give public comment in person or via Zoom during the meetings; register for Tuesday’s Zoom meeting at this link.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

— Reporter Mackenzie Clark contributed to this article.

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