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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs run by state agencies, including information for parks, natural resources and social and health programs.

~ October 2004 ~ Topic


Using Volunteers to Fill Lost Positions With Union Buy-In

Let me start with a brief introduction of myself. My name is Terry Schroeder and I work for the Department of Social and Health Services in the State of Washington. I have worked for the Department for 28 years, with the last 20 years working with volunteers in some capacity. I am also an avid volunteer, currently serving on three local non-profit boards and one advisory board. I am involved with Camp Fire USA as one of the Candy Coordinators for the annual Candy Sale. My husband and I also grow and show dahlia and we are involved (volunteering, of course) with our local and regional Dahlia Societies. I have two children, a daughter and a son who have both done some volunteering as youth. My hope is that as they are becoming productive adults, that they will continue to do so.

When money is tight, there is always talk about using volunteers to fill those lost positions. In the State of Washington, and I assume for other states and other government entities, this is considered an unfair labor practice. We have to be very careful to not even give the appearance of replacing staff with a volunteer. Even if there is no current position for that job description, but there was one in the past, a volunteer cannot be used for that position. We also are not able to use a volunteer to do exactly the same tasks as a paid staff person. I currently work with Child Protective Services and one of the main tasks that we use volunteers to perform is transporting children to visit with their parents or other relatives or to therapy appointments. It’s an important piece of work.

It makes sense to be careful about replacing paid staff with volunteers, even in lean times.

The reason for this is that it is felt that there will be no way that those positions will ever be filled by a paid staff person if it is being done by a volunteer. What we have done is work very closely with our union so that they are aware of what we are doing and they "buy off" on the job descriptions that we use. This has allowed us to be able to use volunteers to do pieces of a job that is done by paid staff – because that is seen as supplementing staff, not replacing staff. It is sometimes hard, especially in lean times, to not replace staff with volunteers, but remember, supplementing and enhancing are the key words.

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Terry Schroeder is a social worker at the Division of Children & Family Services in Bremerton, WA. She has worked for the department for 28 years, the last 20 working with volunteers in some capacity. She is also an avid volunteer, currently serving on three local non-profit boards and one advisory board. She can be contacted by calling: 360-475-3571 or emailing her at: thes300@dshs.wa.gov.

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