In a huge victory for direct care employees at the state’s two psychiatric hospitals – Mildred-Mitchell Bateman Hospital in Huntington and William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital in Weston – UE Local 170 worked with Mountain State Justice, a non-profit public interest law firm, to get Kanawha Circuit Judge Duke Bloom to force the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources to comply with a 2009 court order giving direct care employees at the two hospitals over $500,000 in pay raises.
Judge Bloom ordered DHHR to give the pay raises after he heard testimony during a hearing on October 17. The hearing was meant to update Judge Bloom on the so-called Hartley Case, a 1981 case that remains open and centers on the treatment of mental health patients in the state. The intent of giving the pay raises was to be able to retain and attract direct care employees at the two psychiatric hospitals, which have been historically plagued by understaffing due to high employee turnover and unfilled vacancies.
Since it did not have standing in the Hartley Case, UE Local 170 had reached out to Mountain State Justice, which represented the original litigants in the case, over the past year to bring attention to the fact that DHHR had not complied with the court order. In addition to the pay raises, the court order also called for an end to mandatory overtime and an end to the use of temporary employees.
Jamie Beaton, UE Local 170 chief steward and a direct care employee at Sharpe Hospital, testified at the hearing on behalf of the employees. Beaton testified that Health Service Workers, Health Service Assistants and LPNs, had not received the full $2,000 pay raise as called for in the court order. Beaton also testified to the hospitals ongoing use of mandatory overtime and its affect on employees and the patients that they provide care for. You can read the Charleston Daily Mail coverage of the hearing here.
In the coming month, UE Local 170 will be organizing shift meetings at the two hospitals to inform the employees of the Judge’s decision and how it will impact them. For updates on this issue, check back here.