Senate Bill 601, which negatively affects workers’ rights in the grievance process, has moved toward final passage in the Senate after a reversal on what would have been a very positive amendment.

The bill opens up state workers (and our members) to having to pay the state’s legal fees if the state prevails. This will have a chilling effect on grievants, as Senator Mike Romano told his colleagues.

The Senate could approve the bill Saturday, as there is a noon floor session. If approved by the Senate, the bill goes to the House of Delegates.

An amendment offered by Romano, a Democrat who represents Harrison, Lewis, Braxton, Clay and part of Gilmer County, would have removed the item that would expose our members to paying the state’s legal fees and expenses if the state prevailed (as it often does). He offered a spirited defense for workers who make a “pittance of a salary,” calling the bill “retaliatory.”

The amendment passed 19-14, but after a few minutes, Senator Patricia Rucker of the Eastern Panhandle moved to reconsider (she had voted for it). Then the amendment was rejected 12-20.

The senators that flipped: Hamilton, Maroney, Martin, Rucker, Woodrum and Blair.

Earlier, an amendment submitted by Republican Charles Trump of the Eastern Panhandle (in our Chapter 9), removes the ability of a grievant’s representative to sign and submit a grievance statement. The grievant will have to submit the document on his/her own, notarized. In debate about the amendment, Trump said DOH counsel Rita Pauley accused some representatives of filing a grievance without that grievant’s knowledge.

The amendment passed on a voice vote.

This bill is a serious abridgement of our rights, and we urge members to contact their member of the House of Delegates to voice their opposition. If you need help on who represents you and their contact information, contact the UE Local 170 office at info@uelocal170.or or call (304) 347-4396.

A recap of what this bill would do:

  • It will prohibit grievances over “actions taken by the employer in accordance with Executive Orders issued by the Governor related to declared states of preparedness or states of emergency.”
  • It will require grievance statements to be notarized, and signed by the grievant. (And not the representative.
  • It will allow any party to file a motion to dismiss, citing a number of possible reasons. The administrative law judge would have to halt other proceedings and has 10 days to rule on the motion or set a hearing date on the matter. (This will give agencies another delay tactic.)
  • It will open up the possibility for grievants to be forced to pay the respondent’s legal fees. The text: “The prevailing party at level three may move for and request actual attorney’s fees and costs. If the administrative law judge finds that the opposing party presented a grievance or defense that lacked any basis in fact or law, was not brought in good faith, or was brought with malice or wrongful purpose, including but not limited to delay or harassment, then the administrative law judge may award attorney’s fees and costs to the movant.”
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