Beginning May 2, 2012, a group of environmental inspectors of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) began filing grievances on word that the agency would be hiring new inspectors for oil and gas at a $35,000 starting salary. Other inspectors, some with many years of tenure, were being paid in the $31,000 range. Shortly after the number of grievants reached two dozen, DEP announced that base pay for environmental inspectors was being raised to $35,000.

Rather than just relying on filing individual grievances, UE Local 170 approached the fight around the DEP inspectors' salary as a political struggle. Since the booming Marcellus Shell gas industry was in the headlines and was spurring the need for more environmental inspectors, the union sent out a press release - highlighting the inspectors' salary grievances - which was picked up by the media across the state. You can read an Associated Press news article here. UE Local 170 rank and file members, who work at the DEP, also raised this issue with Senate President Jeffrey Kessler and Speaker of the House Richard Thompson during the June Legislative Interim meetings.
 
Like other West Virginia state agencies, the DEP has been plagued by high employee turnover and unfilled vacancies due to a wage freeze imposed under the Governor Joe Manchin Administration. A recent WV Legislative audit of the DEP revealed that the agency is not able to carry out its responsibilities in a timely manner because of the unfilled vacancies. You can read an Associated Press news article on the legislative audit here.


What the DEP inspectors' victory demonstrates is that even though West Virginia public workers are denied collective bargaining rights, West Virginia public workers can still win victories through collective action if they're organized in a union that is willing to take on their fight.