Santa Cruz drug rehabilitation workers take center stage at film festival

May 19th, 2019

As Santa Cruz grapples with a drug addiction crisis, frontline caregivers at the county’s largest addiction treatment provider are struggling to survive on poverty wages.

On April 30, several drug treatment workers at Janus of Santa Cruz shared their stories of overcoming addiction and dedicating their lives to help others do the same while struggling to pay their rent and feed their families.

“They take advantage of the fact that we want to do this work and pay us peanuts for doing it,” Matt Van Nuys, a drug a addiction counselor said during the panel discussion which was held in conjunction with the Reel Work May Day Labor Film Festival.

Van Nuys currently lives with his wife and infant son in a trailer parked in his friend’s back yard. “This job is my calling, but I can’t support my family on what they’re paying me,” he said before the forum. “So many of my coworkers have left because they couldn’t make ends meet, and the people who suffer most are our clients who can’t count on us to see them through their recovery.”

Santa Cruz County has an opioid overdose death rate well above the state average, yet many Janus workers are paid less than the county’s $16.65 hourly living wage rate. As a result, the turnover rate at Janus was about 40 percent in 2016, the last year for which records exist. The workers who remain must find second jobs to pay their rent and afford health insurance premiums.

Janus workers this month rejected a “Last, Best and Final Offer, from their employer that included only a 1 percent raise and higher health care costs. They have scheduled an informational picket on May 30.