Category Archives: Public Employee Organizing

Fired model Central Regional Hospital worker speaks out, points to the need for a Mental Health Bill of Rights Law

Rebecca Hart at April 4th We Are One Day of Action

Rebecca Hart at April 4th We Are One Day of Action

WHAT: Rally and press conference to support new legislation for Mental Health Workers Bill of Rights, speak out against unjust firings

WHERE: 800 Central Ave, Butner, NC
WHEN: Thursday, April 7th 8:00am
WHO: UE local 150, NC Public Service Workers Union mental health worker members

Press contact: Dante Strobino, UE150 Field Organizer, 919-539-2051

UE Local 150, NC Public Service Workers Union Department of Health and Human Services Council will be hosting a rally and press conference to call for passage of a mental health workers bill of rights and challenge unjust disciplinary actions that are a result of the continued state and local budget cuts that effect mental healthcare services and workers.

UE150 members are gravely concerned about the heightened number of experienced frontline workers that have been fired in recent months. Many of the most qualified workers are being forced out of state facilities by unjust discipline and due to the dangerous work conditions and low wages. This has created a sustained atmosphere of low morale. These conditions only worsen the services provided to the patients and individuals.

On March 17, Rebecca Hart, health care technician, model worker at Central Regional Hospital was fired. After being nominated Employee of the Month and intervening in a patient that was not assigned to her, she was fired for alleged “patient abuse”.  Rebecca had volunteered for overtime to cover the understaffed unit and had worked 63.5 hours, without a day off, the 7 days prior to incident. The same patient involved in the incident with Rebecca, injured many workers in the weeks prior to this incident, including kicking Rebecca in the eye and hitting another HCT between the eyes moments before her intervention. Rebecca had never abused a patient nor had any write-ups in her file.  She was known to be one of the best at de-escalating patients in times of crisis and was nominated by management to be on the Therapeutic Response Team, despite not being paid a dime to do this dangerous work.

UE150 recently hosted two major public hearings for mental health workers in Butner on November 20, 2010 and in Goldsboro on February 5, 2011 (see enclosed report from the hearings).  These hearings heard testimony from dozens of DHHS workers from across the state. The hearing panels composed of elected officials, patient advocates, clergy, civil rights leaders and community leaders made the following conclusions:

1.      The Mental Health Care Workers’ Bill of Rights guarantees basic standards for quality care, and these rights should be established as law to require basic standards in the workplace.
2.       Safety and health issues for both workers and patients stemming from understaffing/forced overtime require an end to the forced overtime policy and proper training.
3.       The Zero Tolerance Policy, which has lead to increased firings and injuries, should be immediately overturned.
4.       Salaries should be increased to retain qualified staff.
5.       Workers should be allowed representation of their choice at all levels of the grievance procedure and access to all information they need in a timely fashion to prevent unnecessary firings and keep staff moral high.
6.       The ban on collective bargaining should be repealed so that public employees can effectively address and resolve their day-to-day issues on the job.

Coming out of these hearings, Rep. Larry Bell drafted a legislative bill (House Bill 287), for a Mental Health Workers Bill of Rights.  On April 4th, Senator Ed Jones introduced a companion Senate bill, SB 481.

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Charleston sanitation workers continue fight for union recognition

DSCF5932Janie Campbell is Acting President of the Charleston Sanitation Workers Union, Local 1199B, Charleston, South Carolina.  City workers there  have been waging a 6-year battle to win collective bargaining in order to improve pay and working conditions, especially health and safety,  for the 120 sanitation, street, sidewalk and stormwater workers in the the city of Charleston, South Carolina.

Sis. Campbell has worked for the city for 13 years as a driver of a sanitation truck.  She is one of 14 women, all Black, in the department – a department in most cities dominated by men.

Justice Speaks:  What were the issues that made you feel you needed to organize your own union?

Janie Campbell:  Our working conditions and health and safety issues consisted of water coolers placed on the truck floors and underneath the trucks where the cooler is easily exposed to roadkill and raw garbage from the the landfill.  Most of our trucks do not have air conditioning..  W need better wages and better benefits.

JS:  Tell us about the water coolers.

JC:  They are  on the truck floor inside the cab but the floor is so filthy and the spout  is floor level and its very unsanitary.  Underneath the truck [the coolers] are in holders but they’re still exposed to raw garbage.    The racks they put in now are closed but  we had been complaining about this for years.

My supervisor was walking around the yard checking trucks one day andi  I called him over;  as he approached , i offered him a drink from my truck.  He said, “I’m not going to drink from that dirty water.” I was only showing him how filthy it was.

One day, in a meeting, I brought a [nasty] old cooler in.  The superintendent kept looking at it but wouldn’t say an thing and they sure ended that meeting fast.   it was after the supervisor refused the water that we finally got them put the coolers in the sanitary cages.

JS:  What is the starting pay for a Charleston sanitation worker?

JC: The  starting pay for  a collector [also called a] striker starts at $9.10/hour depending on the worker’s experience.

JS  IT could be less?

JC:  Oh yeah! Latino workers make $7.00;  they work through temp services..

JS: How long do they usually work through the temp agency?

JC: Some have worked almost a year or better;  they work on an “as needed basis.”

JS: Do they ever get hired?

JC: Yes, they do. then their salary increases to $9.10 an hour.

JS: Are they part of the union drive?

JC:  we’re approaching them now

JS:  What’s the pay ranges for the other positions?

JC:  Senior drivers start at $13.80/hour; a driver starts at about $12 an hour.

JS:  What do collectors make?

JC:   A city collector makes the $9.80 but a temp makes $6.80.

JS:  Does the city only hire Latino workers through the temporary agencies?

JC:  No,  they hire U.S. workers there as well.

JS:  You mentioned street and stormwater workers….

JC:  They are totally different.  I’m not sure what they make; we’re still investigating that.

JS:  Are they part of the union drive? What is their participation rate like?

JC: When the campaign ran in 2003, there was no problem; but now it’s iffy.

JS:  Why?

JC:  They were disappointed [the last time around];  when you put in so much and the city didn’t bargain with us, they lost interest.  And now that we’ve started again, they’ve got the attitude of wait and see.

JS: What other working condition issues are y’all raising?

JC: The gloves [that we are are issued]  because they are so thin that glass, nails or any sharp object can go through them.  And inorder to get a new pair, workers have to bring in the old pair.

Most of the trucks do not have air conditioning. After working in the sun all day, workers  [who bring their lunch need a cool place to take their lunch.

JS:   Everybody eats their lunch in the truck?

JC:  Some  do; some don’t.

JS: By the way,  what the average temperature during the summer?

JC:  100 degrees, with a 110 to 115 degree heat index.

The horses have the privilege of being [brought in]  at 99 degrees and human employees have to continue working to get the route out.  Charleston is a tourist town  with horses and buggies;  so if the temperature is too high, the buggies do not operate until the heat goes down.

JS: Does management allow you to stop  and take breaks?

JC: Oh yeah;  But it should be that you either come in and work early,  like at 4:30 or 5 o’clock in the morning.  They tell us to come in at 6am but what is a little half hour going to do?  But we have asked for the earlier time [to be able to clock in.]

JS:  What is the most recent action that y’all been carrying out in the campaign?

JC:  We  presented a resolution  and memorandum to the mayor and the city council [with 4,000 city residents’ signatures] saying that  we would like them to accept it so we can collectively  bargain.  i just got the news that our resolution was denied.

State of Emergency Campaign, The Blunt Truth About Furloughs

( from Justice Speaks Vol.24 No.3 May/June 2009)

The Blunt Truth

About Furloughs and the Budget!

Cutting pay doesn’t cut into the problems of the economic crisis.
The budgets should not – and can not – be balanced on the backs of workers.

North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has already ordered a 10-hour furlough for state workers and it hurts! The one-half percent pay cut rose to 3% from our wallets when he imposed it over just two months. That means $120 to $150 less income in May and June for workers making $24,000 to $30,000 annually. Now the Legislature is considering handing the Governor power to impose 20 more payless days – an 8% annual cut!

The state is saving more money by stripping back our hard-won healthcare benefits. Gov. Perdue imposed a “temporary” healthcare plan that reduces benefits and increases co-pays and deductibles for all state employees, teachers and retirees. Everyone is initially forced into the more expensive Basic Plan; an enrollee must not smoke or be overweight to qualify for the less expensive Standard Plan. To stay in, enrollees must pass “smokalyzer” and body-weight checks. Prescription co-pays rise to $35 and $55 and eye exams are no longer covered as of Jan. 1, 2010.

Yet corporations and rich folks make out like bandits! 
NC currently has more than $1 billion on the books in corporate tax breaks and the Senate handed corporations an additional $325 million a year, beginning in two years, by cutting corporate taxes. For individuals, $100,000 income for a couple carries the highest tax rate there is. This means a couple with $10 million in annual income is taxed at the same rate as a couple with $100,000 annual income.

And it gets even more unfair! 
The poorest 20% of North Carolinian households have an average income of $10,000 and pay 10.7% in state and local taxes. The wealthiest 1% of families have average annual incomes of $970,000 and pay only 7.1%.

And – It won’t even work! 
State employees are so poorly paid the half-percent wage cut this year adds up to just $70 million – against a $3.5 billion budget shortfall. The cuts that are killing some of us will make only a 0.2% dent in the deficit.

The Governor, Legislature and the corporations that run NC will wring as much as they can from state employees, create a climate of fear among all working and oppressed people for our families and our futures, and keep on steppin’.

It’s time for us to step up!

Don’t Balance City of Durham Budget on Backs of Workers

Durham City Workers and Allies at Rally Before Council Meeting

Durham City Workers and Allies at Rally Before Council Meeting

(From Justice Speaks May/June 2009)

As the banks and big corporations receive trillions in bailout money, governments are balancing budgets on workers’ backs. Public workers are under attack! There is no fat left on services. Any cuts will be cuts to the bone and still city manager Tom Bonfield recommends kicking 35 workers to the curb and eliminating their jobs, plus no pay-for-performance merit increases, longevity cuts, 2% cut to 401K contributions, and benefit cuts to part-time employees working less than 30 hours per week.

If cuts are necessary, then it should happen at the administrative levels only. Fire and police workers should be treated the same as other front-line city employees who provide essential services. Any stimulus money should be used for public jobs, not more privatization. The city manager proposed that the City of Durham’s Fund Balance, Rainy Day Fund, will not be used to balance the budget, “It will be maintained at 11%, but may increase using savings from FY2009.”

Well, HELLO. . . IT’S RAINING!! In fact, it’s a severe thunderstorm bordering on hurricane conditions for front-line workers! We are certainly being forced to go into our “rainy day funds” or savings, if we have them, to balance our household budgets or to keep from slipping two or three months behind in our bills. We’ve had to pay for necessities for our family with high interest credit cards and, yes, even from time to time, visit the dreaded cash advance/check cashing establishments. If workers’ rainy day funds can get drained to 0%, why do the city administrators refuse to even consider lowering the city’s below 11%? The pain should be shared!

Workers came out to the Durham City Council Meeting on May 18 to show our opposition to the budget being balanced on our backs! That we are not happy just to have a job! That we see attacks on co-workers as attacks on all of us!  More will join the efforts of the Durham City Workers Union Chapter of UE 150, the NC Public Service Workers Union.

Virginia UE Scores Victory: Wins Job, Back Pay & Union Rep Rights

Joanne Evans-Davis, UE 160 union leader and City of Petersburg public servant.

Joanne Evans-Davis, UE 160 union leader and City of Petersburg public servant.

Petersburg, VA—On Monday, August 4th, Joanne Evans-Davis will top off a seven-month battle and triumphantly walk into the Petersburg, Va City Water/Public Works Department and begin work as a Customer Service Representative.

Virginia UE Local 160, sister union of NC UE 150, fought the City of Petersburg all the way through its grievance process to win her reinstatement to a job comparable to the one she had been forced out. The union also won backpay for her leave time and credit for all the time she had worked for the city and reinstatement of her sick leave.

Since the summer of 2007, Joanne has worked with UE 160 organizers in support of the union’s efforts to help Petersburg City Workers organize and build a strong union. As part of its fight back plan for better pay, improved working conditions, and against discriminatory, disrespectful, and unfair treatment, the union began to demand accountability from the Petersburg City Council. Joanne, meeting after meeting, was out front as one of the union’s main spokespersons. On December 18, 2007, due to the union and community supporters’ constatnt pressure, the Petersburg City Council appropriated $15,000 to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of personnel practices in the Department of Public Works, Division of Operations and Support Services to ensure working conditions and treatment of city employees were consistent with city policies. The very next day, December 19, Ms. Evans-Davis was reprimanded by her department head and reminded that she “did not speak for the Department of Social Services.” One month later, she was threatened with immediate discharge if she did not submit to “mandatory probation extension”.

Management in Ms. Evans-Davis’ old job as an account clerk in Social Services had attempted to create a “paper trail” of non-grievable bad evaluations of her job performance. They then attempted to shield everything from challenge by claiming their actions fell under the city policies defined as “Management Responsibilities.” UE Local 160 defeated this strategy and were successful in getting those negative write-ups re-defined as unfair discipline and her bosses’ actions characterized as “anti-union animus” – which is in violation of the Code of Virginia.

It is extremely important to workers and their union that UE 160 also was successful in getting the organizer as her representative in the grievance meeting.