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Spokane Alliance introduces issues, urges sick leave

At its June 24 Assembly at Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ in Spokane, the Spokane Alliance raised issues of aging in place, mental health, affordable quality child care and paid sick time.

duane cooper and andy castrolang

Duane Cooper and Andy CastroLang co-chair Spokane Alliance Assembly.

Andy CastroLang, Westminster’s pastor, and Duane Cooper of the American Federation State County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 270, co-chaired the gathering of 193 people on “Building Spokane’s Future: By and For the People.”

The church encourages actions for the good of neighbors and the entire city, Andy said.

Duane said that to gain power to address issues people need to act both individually and collectively.

“Strength comes from our institutions,” Andy said, referring to the churches, unions, nonprofits, businesses and educators in the alliance.

“Collectively we can build the future and make dreams a reality,” said Duane.  “We are all better off when we are all better off.”

Previously the alliance negotiated with Spokane Public Schools to provide job training for apprentices and adopt green building standards.  It worked for a Jobs Bill that brought 18,000 jobs to the state, stimulating the local economy by building a medical school at Riverpoint and establishing a health equity class for medical students. 

After participants discussed how the issues affect their lives, three people shared their stories.

Amelia Odeen, of the Association of Manufactured Home Owners has learned about aging in place as she visits people who downsize to be independent and live in manufactured home communities where they help each other.

“Cuts in home care force more people to go to nursing homes, even though home care costs less,” she said.

Physician Gil Escandon of Westminster UCC saw a rise in mental health needs in 24 years of emergency room work and now as physician for the Spokane County Jail.

“We could provide better mental health care at less cost than jails and emergency rooms,” said Gil.

Diane Clavel of the AFSCME Local 270, told of her need for affordable child care.  She stayed at home with her four preschool children until her husband said they needed more income.  After many calls to find child care, she found a job from 4 p.m. to midnight to supplement her husband’s daytime job so one was at home. 

“Family time was poor and I was sleep deprived,” she said.

Ben stuckart mike denton and martin wells

City Council President Ben Stuckart speaks with Mike Denton and Lutheran Bishop Martin Wells.

Mike Denton, Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ Conference Minister, committed to work on the issues, aware they affect him personally and as a pastor to the region.

Bishop Martin Wells of the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America tells churches he visits that “God calls us into community to care for the common good.”

He reminded how civil rights activists organized and risked their lives in 1964 to resist racism in a peaceful way.  He called for working together like them as “we struggle in a polarized society.”

Aging, mental health and child care were introduced for the alliance to research. 

The Paid Sick, Safe, Family Leave Policy Research Team urges that the Spokane City Council adopt the policy by 2015.

John Patberg, a second year medical student at WSU Riverpoint, had focused on activism, social justice and community organizing in college, but burned out, and chose to be a doctor to focus on individuals.  His first year of medical school, he took the Spokane Alliance’s community organizing class and realized the need to address patients’ community as part of improving their health.

Shelly Kornmeyer of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1439 grew up in the grocery business.  If her four-year-old child is sick, either she or her husband has to stay home and lose a day of pay.

Jodi Harmon, an elementary school counselor with the Spokane Education Association, learns of families’ struggles.  Parents send children to school sick, because otherwise they lose pay.  One older son stayed home with younger brothers when they were sick so his parents could work.  A good student, he was falling behind later in the year because of missing so much school.

The team met with 12 businesses and nonprofits to find out what they did.

Dentist Shancie Wagner  has a dental hygienist with MS. She grants her sick paid leave as needed, and the hygienist does not take advantage of it.

Mike Dolmage of the Lantern Tap House Restaurant gives employees paid sick leave because he believes when his employees have quality of life it means better relationships with customers and coworkers.

“Being accountable to our employees is a way to have a positive impact on the community,” he said.

Stacie Wenzel of the Spokane Regional Health District said it’s a public health issue because paid sick leave can prevent spread of diseases.

Jon Snyder and Candace Mumm of the Spokane City Council pledged to work for the city to adopt a Paid Sick, Safe, Family Leave policy by 2015.

“Everyone benefits” from such a policy, Jon said.

Candace told of not seeking medical help when she didn’t feel well during a council meeting.  Later she found she had a ruptured appendix that endangered her life.  Also, she does not want restaurant workers to work when sick and spread what they have.

City Council President Ben Stuckart promised to partner to make safe sick family leave pass, calling for assembly participants to testify before the council and keep up their efforts to overcome opposition.

For information, call 532-1688 or email


Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Summer 2014


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