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UE 150 • The North Carolina Public Service Workers' Union


Building UE Among
North Carolina
Health and Human
Services Workers


DHHS Workers are Tired of Being Disrespected and Underpaid


Local 150 Leads the Fight Against Closures, For a People-Oriented Budget

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UE Local 150


Building UE Among
North Carolina
Health and Human
Services Workers
Marching for Justice ...

Marching for Justice. Local 150 members and District 1 Council delegates take part in a Juneteenth march and rally in Raleigh, N.C. on June 16. The event was sponsored by the Farm Labor Organizing Committee and Black Workers for Justice. UE Dir. of Org. Bob Kingsley addressed the rally.

On a showery morning in mid-June on the campus of Cherry Hospital in Goldsboro, N.C., a young woman worker hurries along the sidewalk towards the canteen. Noticing a couple of unfamiliar men talking to co-workers, she breaks into a broad smile. "Y’all with the union?" she asks.

The union. For thousands of state Department of Health and Human Services staff, that means just one thing: the North Carolina Public Service Workers’ Union, UE Local 150.

UE Local 150 is the name in the news, on employee bulletin boards, in break-time conversation, on the T-shirts they wear, and most importantly, on the union cards they carry.

More than 500 DHHS workers have joined the union as dues-paying members since the launch of the DHHS Dignity campaign in March.

DHHS workers at eight facilities have turned to UE to fight short staffing, mandatory overtime, low wages, discrimination and budget cuts that threaten closures.

Theirs is a union that has already gained respect and a degree of recognition in a state that outlaws collective bargaining between state government and unions.

The origins of Local 150 lie in the struggle of University of North Carolina housekeepers to overcome discrimination, beginning in 1990 (see: Local 150 Demands Justice on UNC Campuses). UE 150, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, received its charter at the 63rd UE National Convention in August 1998. Within a year, the ranks of Local 150 had already expanded to include the Durham municipal employees, as well as staff of the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf. In the last two years — and especially the last four months — the union’s growth has been based in Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) facilities.


The Special Care Center in Wilson adjoins the School for the Deaf; UE began organizing there in 2000. Meanwhile, in Raleigh, the high level of union activity in the UNC system caught the attention of Dorothea Dix staff, just as a well-publicized auditor’s report recommended closure of the historic psychiatric hospital, located near the North Carolina State campus. The day before the kickoff of the "Justice 2000" campaign among UNC workers, organizers began getting calls from Dix staff. The movement started among housekeepers but Dix workers in a number of job classifications began signing union cards and payroll deduction authorization. (Local 150 had recently won checkoff for union dues.)

UE acted quickly to resolve questions about the right to organize. In a letter to Elizabeth McLaughlin, UE support attorney, Diane Martin Pomper, Assistant Attorney General, declared "I can assure you that rights of (state) employees... who decide to join a union will be respected to the full extent of the law."

The union met an important challenge at the Eastern Carolina School for the Deaf when Larry Wellman, the UE chapter president, was unjustly fired. Local 150 exerted worksite, community and legal pressure to return Wellman to his job with back pay and restored benefits.


Lobbing to protect jobs ...

Rep. Paul Luebke from Durham is urged to take action against budget cuts by a UE Local 150 delegation including Ray Eurquhart, political action coordinator, and Pres. Barbara Prear at the union's June 13 legislative action day.

From this base, union leaders developed a plan to delve deeper into DHHS. The "DHHS Dignity" campaign was launched on March 12, 2001, with 20 or more organizers and volunteers, among them Dix workers, fanning out through parking lots and driveways. Organizers collected a few hundred names initially while leafleting Cherry Hospital and O’Berry Center staff as they went into work.

If workers were pleased to encounter UE, management at the two DHHS facilities in Goldsboro had a less positive response. The director of the O’Berry Center called the police; UE organizers were forced to make a stand for free speech at the gates. The letter from the Assistant Attorney General circulated among the workers while the union legal committee went to work on the administration. Eventually, Dr. Jerry Lyall, the O’Berry director, yielded UE (temporary) office space on campus (in what’s known as "the White House") to meet with workers, hear their grievances — and sign up new members.

At Cherry Hospital, where initially management took the position that unions were "illegal," the director also provided UE on-site office space (in the Chapel Basement Conference Room). At both facilities, the Human Resource directors tacked UE leaflets on the official bulletin boards.

"Cherry workers had just been waiting for the opportunity," says William Newsome, a health care technician at the psychiatric hospital. "The response was almost immediate."

The challenge facing the UE staff soon became keeping up with the growing worker interest while building some level of organization.


From Goldsboro, some 30 miles southwest of Raleigh, organizers planned on developing interest expressed by workers at the Whitaker School and Murdoch and Umstead Centers in Butner, north of Raleigh. The organizing took something of a detour when workers at the Caswell Center insisted on having the union. The large mental retardation facility is located in Kinston, nearly 20 miles southeast of Goldsboro. "We told them, can’t do it now, we’ll talk to you in the fall," says Field Org. Steve Bader. "But they kept pounding away." Excitement about UE 150 had captured Caswell workers with relatives working at other DHHS facilities. UE staff met with several Caswell workers, many of them from the physical plant, at a nearby Burger King. All of them signed membership cards — and the campaign at Caswell was underway.

(The union organized in Butner, too.)

Beginning on April 25, and for weeks after, O’Berry and Cherry workers wore red on Wednesday to show unity around important job issues that needed to be addressed — among them, mandatory overtime, lack of respect, discrimination, lack of paid time off. Adding to these displays of worker unity were "speak outs" — leaflets picturing workers with their statements of concern about workplace issues.


Weeks of discussion, "speak-outs," red-shirt Wednesdays, and workplace election of delegates culminated in the UE 150 DHHS Workers’ Assembly on June 2. More than 100 Department of Health and Human Services workers and community allies gathered to develop a workers’ agenda and rally against proposed closures and budget cuts.

Participants came from six DHHS facilities — Cherry Hospital, O’Berry Center, Caswell Center, Dorothea Dix Hospital and the Eastern N.C. School for the Deaf. Many of those who attended reported that this was the first time front-line workers from different institutions had ever come together to compare conditions — or work out a common program and plan of action for quality jobs and quality care.

These new UE Local 150 members spoke out about the state budget cuts and the continuing crisis of understaffing. They voiced their concerns and expressed their determination to stop the cuts and to improve working conditions.

DHHS workers debated proposed policy resolutions covering a number of issues, among them opposing the budget cuts, building for a political action day (which took place June 13), worker presentation on the job and solidarity with other unions.

UE Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark chaired the Assembly, which took place at the Herman Park Community Center in Goldsboro.

The campaign to organize DHHS, and build strong union organization, is ongoing. Local 150 members at DHHS facilities are circulating a "Petition to Save and Improve DHHS Services and Jobs" that calls for community and worker voice in changes taking place within the DHHS system and quality care and quality jobs.



UE News - 06/01

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