For nearly a decade, our Union has tirelessly fought to preserve and expand public workers’ rights — and the public interest of all West Virginia citizens — against the powerful political bureaucracy that rules our workplace. We’ve made a stand against favoritism, discrimination, inefficiency, and the other abuses of authority that are deeply entrenched in state and county government.
Beginning with a protest picket of equipment sales in Buckhannon in 2007, this Local was the first to expose and oppose the political corruption that plagues the Highways equipment division under the past two statehouse administrations, a corruption that eventually led to a 96-count federal indictment of the equipment division boss in October of 2015.
Also in 2007, it was this Local that filed the first of several grievances asserting the right of public workers to representation in any disciplinary actions taken by state agencies against an employee. These cases have over the years resulted in a string of grievance board decisions affirming the right of West Virginia public workers to union representation whenever state power is brought down upon us in the workplace.
We’ve known from the beginning that there are serious flaws in the grievance law. At the same time, we’ve also recognized that the only grievance certain to be lost is one that is never filed and fought. Imperfect as the grievance system is, the Union has nevertheless successfully reversed the wrongful firing of employees in a total of thirty-nine cases.
Of the successful state worker grievance decisions issued in the last year since our last convention, more than half were brought by our Local, including:
- Matthews v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Docket No. 2015-0395-DDHR, ruling that an employee performance appraisal was improper because it was not based upon all the duties assigned to the worker;
- Smith v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Docket No. 2015-0371-DHHR, finding that the agency wrongfully refused to purge its records of expired disciplinary documents;
- Tanner v. West Virginia Division of Highways, Docket No. 2015-1303-DOT, deciding that a job bid selection was improperly conducted by the agency;
- Luzader v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Docket No. 2015-0911-CONS, ruling that the agency improperly withheld shift differential;
- Daugherty v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Docket No. 2016-0821-CONS, which reversed the wrongful dismissal of a state employee;
- Weaver v. West Virginia Division of Highways, Docket Noi. 2015-1223-DOT, ruling that a posted promotion was improperly selected and awarded by management;
- Burrows v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Docket No. 2014-1784-CONS, deciding that a worker was owed back pay for scheduled overtime lost during an investigatory suspension;
- Simms v. West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, Docket No. 2015-1156-DOC, overturning a written reprimand based on a false allegation;
- Ferris v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Docket No. 2014-1562-DHHR, finding that the agency had improperly withheld court witness pay from an employee to whom it was due.
The Union’s determination to defend state workers has been met with the bad faith efforts on the part of executive branch agencies to restrict and defeat workers’ rights, particularly in matters of representation and due process.
In 2011, DHHR, the state’s largest agency, formulated ‘Union Representation Guidelines’ explicitly designed to limit and undermine the right to representation that had been adopted in state law in 2007. The Local fought back against this aggressive attempt to restrict workers’ rights and, in two important grievance board decisions, proved that DHHR guidelines violated state law. As a result of those two decisions — Beaton, et al., v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Docket No. 2013-0496-CONS, and Deyerle v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, Docket No. 2013-2231-CONS — the DHHR guidelines were declared to be unlawful.
In July of this year, DHHR decided to double-down in its assault on workers’ due process by issuing a revision of its disciplinary policy, known as Memo 2104. In the new version, managers are explicitly told that they do not have to inform employees of their right to representation, nor are they required to hold ‘predetermination’ meetings with an accused worker if the discipline is less than an unpaid suspension. Additionally, there is no mention made in the revised policy of an employee’s right to seek removal of stale, years-old reprimands, even though such a removal is a longstanding past practice codified in the disciplinary guidelines of the state’s Division of Personnel.
DHHR’s action is a clear sign that state power is now mobilizing to subjugate state employees. The need to organize all state workers in this Local to fight back against the managerial abuse of authority has never been more urgent. Only by joining together in the Union can we become a power greater than the feeble strength of the single, isolated individual.
And, if we fail to exercise our rights, then we do not have them.