In the face of hostile state agencies that are trying to squeeze out more work with fewer state workers, UE Local 170 members have been engaging in direct action to address workplace problems. Our union's philosophy of handling workplace problems is to mobilize our members to engage in direct action at their workplace because our union's greatest strength is our members when they're organized and mobilized.

Here are three great examples of our members engaging in direct action at their workplaces over this past summer:

State hospital members and supporters picket
at William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital in Weston

 

Nearly 100 UE Local 170 members and supporters participated in informational picketing at William R. Sharpe, Jr. Hospital in Weston on May 19 to bring attention to the poor working conditions there. Sharpe employees, who took turns picketing, either before or after their work shifts, were joined by other UE Local 170 members and community supporters. Passersby honked their horns to show their support during the two-hour picketing.

Despite agreeing to a 2009 court order agreement, which called for improved pay for direct care employees, and an end to mandatory overtime, and an end to the use of temporary and contract employees at Sharpe and Mildred-Mitchell Bateman Hospital in Huntington, the WV Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities (BHHF) has failed to follow through with the agreement.

While the court order agreement only applies to direct care employees at the two psychiatric facilities, UE Local 170 is calling for improved pay and working conditions for all of the non-management employees at all of the Bureau's facilities.

Since that picketing action, BHHF agreed to submit a plan to the court to bring it into compliance with the 2009 court order. But no sooner had the BHHF agreed to submit a plan in order to avoid being held in contempt of court, the BHHF appealed the court's order to the West Virginia Supreme Court. UE members who work for BHHF are now considering engaging in more direct actions at the Bureau's facilities to send another message to the Bureau. Stay tuned!

 

DOH members and supporters picket in Beckley
 

Tired of being forced to work mandatory overtime six days a week and being disciplined and retaliated against if they refused, UE Local 170 members who work for the Division of Highways (DOH) staged an informational picket at a busy intersection near their garage in Beckley on June 19. The DOH members were joined by other UE Local 170 members from the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and Jackie Withrow Hospital. Passersby honked their horns in a show of support.

West Virginia Delegate Rick Moye (D-Beckley) also stopped by to show support for the DOH employees. Delegate Moye said that he would call the district manager and ask that any disciplinary actions be removed from employees' work records who refused the overtime.

The informational picketing received extensive media coverage before and after the picketing throughout southern West Virginia.

When management found out about the informational picketing earlier in the week, the district manager came to the garage to apologize to the employees for forcing them to work mandatory overtime over the past three months, but took no action to remove the disciplinary actions or address the ongoing acts of retaliation. He told the employees that they would quit using mandatory overtime, but the UE members decided to go forward with the picketing anyway to send a message. The DOH can only use mandatory overtime during declared states of emergency or during snow removal and ice control (SRIC) season.

Due to their ridiculously low wages (starting pay of $10.80 an hour), the DOH has more than 600 unfilled vacancies statewide and is having a hard time retaining and recruiting employees. The Beckley DOH garage has more than 20 unfilled vacancies.

Since the informational picketing at the DOH garage in Beckley, working conditions have gotten a lot better there according to our members.

 

DHHR members and supporters picket
at Fayette County DHHR office

 

After waiting more than a year for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) to implement their caseload standard recommendations, UE Local 170 members picketed outside of the Fayette County DHHR office in Oak Hill on July 29 after work to bring public attention to their outrageously large, unmanageable caseloads due to understaffing. The DHHR employees were joined on the picket line by UE members from the Division of Highways (DOH) and Jackie Withrow Hospital in nearby Beckley.

Passersby honked their horns in a show of support. The info picketing was covered by local TV news stations.

Large, unmanageable caseloads mean that client services are not being delivered in a timely manner, and that children and the elderly are being put at risk. Fayette County DHHR employees’ caseloads are two to three times the caseload standards that a DHHR program initiative recommends.

In 2012, UE Local 170 reached an agreement with the DHHR for the agency to finally comply with West Virginia Code 9-2-6a, regarding the development of reasonable and achievable caseload standards for its program areas. Over the next year, UE Local 170, the West Virginia Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and DHHR put together workgroups - made up of DHHR employees - to develop caseload standards for five program areas: Social Workers, Case Aides, Eligibility Workers, Child Support Specialists, and Child Support Technicians.

In June 2013, the workgroups completed their work and delivered their final recommendations to DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling. The workgroups' recommendations will greatly reduce the caseloads of DHHR employees - in some cases by fifty percent or more.

Since the informational picketing at the Fayette County DHHR office, Nancy Exline, Commissioner of the Bureau for Children and Families (BCF), has met with the employees at the Fayette County office and promised to hire more workers there in order to lower the employees' caseloads. Other DHHR employees are now considering doing informational picketing at their county offices - stay tuned!

You can read more about these direct actions, including media coverage and pics, by visiting our Facebook page here.