West Virginia state hospital employees, members of UE Local 170, West Virginia Public Workers Union, brought their ongoing complaints to the headquarters of the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) in Charleston on July 17. The state hospital employees work for the West Virginia Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities (BBHHF), part of the DHHR. UE Local 170 has nearly four hundred members at six of the bureau's state hospitals and nursing homes, located around the state.
 
Chanting, "What do we want? Dignity! When do we want it? Now!" the state hospital employees picketed outside the front doors of  DHHR's headquarters, located at One Davis Square in downtown Charleston. After their lunch-time picket line, the state hospital employees went inside the building to request a meeting with Rocco Fucillo, Acting Secretary of the DHHR, and Victoria Jones, Commissioner of the BBHHF. A DHHR representative said that neither Fucillo or Jones were available, but said that she would relay the employees concerns. (A meeting with Secretary Fucillo has been scheduled for Monday, August 27, at 3 p.m.)

The state hospital employees' picket line received extensive media coverage, including news articles in the Charleston Gazette and Charleston Daily Mail.

Since West Virginia public workers do not have collective bargaining rights, UE Local 170 mobilizes state workers to engage in direct action to have their complaints addressed. UE Local 170 members have rallied at both William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital in Weston and Mildred-Mitchell Bateman Hospital in Huntington during the past year over the deteriorating working conditions at their facilities. Workers say the bad working conditions are making it exceedingly difficult for state hospital employees to provide the level of care that their residents and patients need and deserve.

"These problems have been going on for years, but it doesn't seem like DHHR is making any progress," said Jamie Beaton, UE Local 170 Chief Steward and an health service worker at William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital. Beaton was interviewed by the news media during the July 17 protest.
 

The state hospital employees’ ongoing complaints include, understaffing, over-bedding, mandatory overtime, unsafe working conditions, inadequate staff training, low pay, unjust discipline and violations of the employees’ right to representation, and violations of their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Late last year, UE Local 170 notified the DHHR of its intention to sue over the violations of the employees’ rights if they were not resolved.

Earlier this summer, UE Local 170 members at the state hospitals launched a campaign called  "Stand Up for the Rights of West Virginia State Hospital Employees," which includes leafleting and petitioning their co-workers. The petitions, which will be delivered to DHHR officials when they meet, calls for an end to mandatory overtime, understaffing and unjust discipline and terminations. The petition demands that DHHR respect their employees' right to representation, and their FMLA, ADA and FLSA rights. The petition also demands improved wages, working conditions and collective bargaining rights. As part of their campaign and to show solidarity with one and another, the state hospital employees are wearing red wristbands which say "Standing Up for the Rights of West Virginia State Hospital Employees." The state hospital employees are also meeting with their legislators to make them aware of the ongoing problems at their facilities.