Local 150 Responds
To DHHS ‘State
With the State of North Carolina facing a budget deficit approaching $2 billion, the Department of Health and Human
Services has announced an austerity plan that could involve massive cuts in jobs and services, with little regard for the workers who
provide essential services.
In response, UE Local 150, North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, is conducting a "State of Emergency"
campaign to defend jobs and give workers a voice in decisions made about their future.
At UE News press time it was unclear how actions by the state legislature would impact DHHS. Gov. Mike Easley
and legislators were considering layoffs, a 3-5 percent pay cut and furloughs, rather than close tax loopholes on large corporations and
the wealthy. DHHS has already announced a five-year plan to reduce the number of residents of each mental retardation institution by half,
slashing jobs and pushing clients into private group homes.
"These cuts, on top of already low salaries, unaffordable benefits, understaffing, discrimination and favoritism,
create a state of emergency," according to UE Local 150.
Union members have been collecting signatures on petitions in defense of jobs and services and bringing the issue to state
and local officials.
Local 150 points out that DHHS cutbacks will represent a crushing blow to regional economies. The Caswell Center, with
more than 1,700 employees, is the largest employer in Lenoir County as well as the largest DHHS mental retardation facility. Its payroll
of $45.5 million annually is 6 percent of the county’s total payroll. Closure of Caswell would be devastating to Lenoir County and the
A Speak Out at the Kinston Public Library on April 20 brought Caswell workers and concerned workers together to talk about
keeping the center open and better working conditions, too.
Steven Rhoda, a Caswell electrician and vice president of the Local 150 chapter there, explained how he and close to
200 co-workers organized in response to job cuts. "Now we have muscled up support to get employees together, save our jobs, and get
better pay and working conditions," he said.
Larry Lindsey, a Caswell teacher, said that before coming to the facility he might have thought privatization of
services was a good idea. "Now I know the residents get something at the center they could not get anywhere else. This is their home.
They receive education, work, recreation, everything 24 hours a day," he said.
The event received front-page coverage in the local press with a headline reading, "Angry Caswell Employees
Union members at Caswell enjoyed a significant victory on May 20 when the Lenoir County Board of Commissioners voted
unanimously to adopt the union’s "Resolution to Defend and Improve Caswell Jobs and Services." The resolution calls on the
governor and state legislature to back legislation that preserves the Caswell Center, and notes the devastating impact closure would have
on the tax base and local economy.
However, anti-union bias prevented the Kinston City Council from supporting the same resolution later the same day.
Council members claimed that they agreed with keeping jobs in town but when offered an opportunity to actually do something balked because
UE Local 150 initiated the campaign. "I’m really appalled," said Patricia J. Harris, president of the Local 150 chapter
at Caswell. "I can’t believe they would turn this down — Caswell Center benefits the community."
In the coming weeks, the Caswell Chapter of Local 150 will continue building support within the community for the workers
and the institution as they prepare for the union’s statewide lobby day on June 19.