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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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