UE Local 170 members at the WV Veterans Nursing Facility in Clarksburg, WVWhile West Virginia state workers do not have collective bargaining rights, this hasn't stopped our members who work at the West Virginia Veterans Nursing Facility in Clarksburg from engaging in their own brand of "collective bargaining," which has resulted in greater union access at their facility and wage improvements for some direct care staff. And, our members say that they are determined to fight for more improvements.

Even when workers have collective bargaining rights in the private sector or public sector, that in and of itself doesn't mean that collective bargaining will result in improvements in wages and working conditions, or a collective bargaining agreement. The only way workers win better wages and working conditions is by having the collective power to extract it from the bosses, regardless of their "collective bargaining rights."

For past four months, UE Local 170 members have been meeting with the facility's management to address ongoing problems at the facility, including favoritism, discrimination, low wages, staff shortages, mandatory overtime, and the facility's over reliance on contract employees. The union presented management with a number of proposals to address these problems, including a wage proposal with step wage increases, seniority rights for job bidding, improved grievance and right to representation rights, and greater union access.

The union approached these negotiations like we would at any other UE local: the employees were surveyed to see what their bargaining priorities were, a "bargaining" committee was formed with representatives from all of the various job classifications, the union had meetings to keep all of the employees informed and engaged, and all of the "bargaining" sessions with management were open to any employees who could attend.

Like collective bargaining with most other employers, the meetings with the facility's management has resulted in some improvements, continued discussions on some issues, and the rejection of some of the union's proposals - for now. The union has won the right to have shift meetings in the facility's conference room. Prior to this, the union was confined to the facility's lobby from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Management has also agreed to request a 10 percent pay equity increase for 37 health service workers, which will result in a more than $2,000 wage increase for each of these workers. The facility's management has also agreed to continue discussions on improving wages, reducing mandatory overtime, and decreasing the use of contract employees.

While our members are happy with these initial improvements, they are more determined than ever to continue organizing the union at their facility and eventually winning all of their proposals. Since these "bargaining" meetings started taking place, the union's membership has more than doubled and is close to being a "majority union" at the facility - more to come.