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Denver homeless shelter becomes first to unionize in the state

Workers at Urban Peak made history as first homeless shelter to unionize in Colorado.

DENVER — Workers at Urban Peak voted to unionize on Wednesday, marking the first homeless shelter to unionize in Colorado's history, Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 105 said in a news release.

According to SEIU, workers reported several issues, such as "high workloads, excessive turnover, and most critically, the lack of proper training and resources to effectively serve the unhoused youth at Urban Peak."

Dara Amott, an outreach worker at Urban Peak, said some of the organization's policies were unhelpful to the communities they serve.

"I was just seeing time and time again, these same youth getting restricted, getting ostracized, getting penalized by like Urban Peak policies," said Amott. "And I think that was what really led me to, to want to unionize because I was like, there are very clear like steps that we can take to support these youth that we just don't... that we have the ability to, but we just don't have the support to do.”

Amott added that there was a lack of management support over issues like mental health and sick leave, too.

"We work in really, really hard jobs. And just like all nonprofits, like, there's not a lot of support built in for the frontline staff," she said. "It's harder for people to, like, take time off when they're sick, so we have a lot of staff coming in when they should be resting."

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SEIU emphasized that Urban Peak workers jobs are "difficult both physically and emotionally," stating that many reported incidents involving death in the workplace; however, they claim management handles the trauma for workers and clients poorly, fails to provide staff the required training for these incidents and punish them if they speak out.

According to the news release, workers claim management has not started plans for negotiations, though workers and supporters throughout Denver said it's "critical" for Urban Peak to bargain with the union to address the issues at hand and start improving conditions at the shelter.

The shelter's CEO, Christine Carlson, said the following statement Friday afternoon: "As an organization, we were grateful for the time to hold an election and learn about the impact associated with unionization... The election allowed all our employees to have their voice heard."

For Amott, this unionization gives her hope for other homeless service providers in Colorado. "I know the way that, like, the system is built right now... it is built for, for burnout," she said. "People are falling through the cracks left and right, and I'm hoping that, like, this is just the first step in just rebuilding the system to better serve the people that we are meant to serve."

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