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UE 150 • The North Carolina Public Service Workers' Union


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

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Local 150 Leads
The Fight Against
Closures, For a
People-Oriented Budget
Comillous Parks, UE Local 150 member from the O’Berry Center with a reporter ... DHHS Sec. Carmen Hooker Buell talks with workers from the Caswell Center, including Wanda Heath ...

Comillous Parks, UE Local 150 member from the O’Berry Center tells a reporter more state funds should be going to direct care. DHHS Sec. Carmen Hooker Buell assures workers from the Caswell Center, including Wanda Heath, that she’s working hard to prevent their facility from closing.

We have to look at the future and make investments, not cuts," declared Eddie Byrd in a meeting with a state representative in Raleigh, N.C. A plumber employed for 25 years at the Caswell Center in Kinston, Byrd was part of a large delegation of UE Local 150 members who brought their concerns directly to legislators on June 13.

In office after office, lawmakers and aides were surprised by the presence of UE members, their numbers, and articulate presentation. "Not many front-line workers here," said Local 150 Pres. Barbara Prear, looking around the Legislative Building. "You don’t see people like us up here."

Their timing could hardly have been better. With North Carolina facing an $850 million budget shortfall and dismal revenue prospects for the new fiscal year, the General Assembly faced tough budget decisions.


The Senate recommended the elimination of hundreds of jobs in the Department of Health and Human Services and the closure (by 2003) of five facilities for the mentally ill and those with mental, behavioral and physical disabilities. The budget proposal also called for steep increases in employee insurance costs and a minimal pay increase.

Local 150 members, employees of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the University of North Carolina (UNC) system, argued persuasively for a budget that puts people’s needs first.

On June 13, UE members employed by DHHS made it clear that the projected budget cuts and closures would be a disaster for the client population, for workers and for the community. The union’s Legislative Day saw workers from Dorothea Dix and Cherry Hospitals and the O’Berry and Caswell Centers meet with legislators from their own districts, including House Majority Leader Philip Baddour and Sen. John Kerr, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Local 150 members also had meetings with DHHS Secretary Carmen Hooker Buell, who was on her way to a hearing, and Sen. Bill Martin, chair of the HHS Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Local 150 members from the University system ran into UNC President Molly Broad in the corridors of the Legislative Building, taking the opportunity to share with her the union’s goals. "We alerted her that front-line workers are paying attention to the state budget and actions of the legislature," said Local 150 Pres. Prear.

"The Senate ought to rethink the closures and the effect on patients," said Lu Baldwin, Local 150 vice president and a rehabilitation therapist technician at Dorothea Dix Hospital. "The legislators need to put themselves in the position of patients and their families."

"These cuts are really bad for the patients and staff," declared William Newsome, a health care technician at Cherry Hospital. Instead, he said, the legislature should invest more funds into DHHS to deal with the short staffing that hurts patient care and forces workers into extra shifts.

Comillous Parks, a UE 150 member from the O’Berry Center, objected to big pay increases for administrators and paltry raises for front-line workers. "Legislators need to see what we actually do, day-to-day, in delivering care." Larry Lindsey, a teacher from the Caswell Center asked how the legislature could possibly consider closing the facility without a transition plan.

A large delegation from Caswell met with a number of eastern North Carolina lawmakers who assured them the final budget won’t require closure of the facility. Among them was Rep. Edd Nye of Bladen County, who pinned a UE button to his lapel.


Rep. Jennifer Weiss of Wake County told a UE delegation that she supported the union’s proposal for town hall meetings. "I agree with closing loopholes, not hospitals," she said.

At a briefing, Dan Gerlach of the North Carolina Justice and Community Development Center told UE members that "there’s more sentiment in the House for closing loopholes in corporate taxes than in the Senate." He told the group, "It’s not true that closures are needed to balance the budget." The alternative to closing institutions, he said, is to close tax loopholes and raise taxes on the incomes of the wealthy.

Also speaking at the briefing were Sen. Toby Fitch, whose office assisted the union with arrangements, Sen. Frank W. Ballance, Elizabeth McLaughlin, UE support attorney, Sorian Schmidt of the Justice and Community Development Center, Ray Eurquhart, Local 150 political action coordinator, and UE Political Action Dir. Chris Townsend, who helped organize the Legislative Day.

Reassembled for the report-back session, participants shared a sense of the good timing — they arrived with the budget very much in play, giving them an opportunity to have an impact. After listening to reports of favorable comments by lawmakers, Wanda Heath, an education/development assistant from Caswell, said: "They may be telling us what we want to hear, but we’re going to keep on fighting!"



UE News - 06/01

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