Virginia Hospital Workers Organized As Newly
Chartered UE Local 160
|Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley (under the
second umbrella from right) with new UE members.
Rain fell here on April 9, bringing a brief respite to drought-plagued western Virginia. Workers at Western State Hospital
are expecting the new UE local chartered that damp Tuesday will bring long-term relief to the drought of adequate wages, staffing levels
and employee voice at the mental-care facility.
UE Local 160, Virginia Public Service Workers Union, more than 200-members strong, received its charter from Dir. of Org. Bob
Kingsley during a day of action and solidarity expressing the new local union’s demand for "quality care and livable
The organizing effort at Western State Hospital began in August 2001 when officers of a discredited incumbent union
approached UE. In the intervening half-year, union membership in the hospital doubled.
Worker concerns with understaffing — an issue of patient care and worker safety — has helped drive the organizing,
along with widespread dissatisfaction with the hospital’s "centralized scheduling" system. Since UE has been in the hospital,
management hired six new floaters to help with the shortage — a step which doesn’t go far enough, workers say.
The scheduling system puts most employees into a central pool that allows administrators to shift workers from ward to
ward as needed, on a daily basis.
Hospital employees regard the new plan as a nightmare that places them at risk while stirring patients’ anxiety. They
say lack of staff interaction with individual patients — especially unfamiliarity with warning signs and treatment plans — can have
"All it does is make the numbers look good. It doesn’t do anything for the care of the patient, and it might get
one of us seriously hurt one of these days," says Mary Awkward, a union member and psychiatric practical nurse.
Wages represent another worker issue. Many employees with 10-20 years’ service are paid significantly less than their
new-hire counterparts. Senior employees have been told that they can win themselves a pay increase by quitting and reapplying. Western
State staff have not received a raise in five of the last six years and will not see another until the end of 2003.
Union members brought these issues to the attention of management and taxpayers with a rally on April 9. Despite the
downpour, a lively crowd of UE Local 160 members gathered outside the hospital’s entrance, joined by Local 123 members Paul Lynn,
Danny "Beetle" Bailey and Theresa Hall, Area NAACP Chairperson Eicky Woodson, former Local 124 Pres. Bob
Holbert, Green Party candidate Sherry Stanley, retired UE Field Org. George Stevens, Andrew Holden of the Virginia
Organizing Project and Jens Huhn of the Transnational Information Exchange.
UE News - 4/02