UE 150 Gains Momentum in Campaign For Mental Health Workers' Rights

June 25, 2008

UE Local 150 members in the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are continuing their Mental Health Workers Bill of Rights campaign, and are gaining in both momentum and public recognition.

On June 24, following another beating of a nurse at Dorothea Dix Hospital by a patient, the state’s leading newspaper ran an editorial endorsing Local 150’s call for a one-year moratorium on the closing of Dix. “It is time that those who supervise the mental health care system in North Carolina joined staff members from Dorothea Dix hospital in Raleigh and other advocates for the mentally ill, and signed on to keep Dix open,” wrote the editors of the Raleigh News & Observer. The editorial noted safety concerns, inadequate staffing and design flaws with the new Central Regional hospital that is slated to replace Dix and John Umstead Hospital. It cited data compiled by UE 150/North Carolina Public Service Workers' Union on worker injuries at North Carolina’s mental hospitals, and said incidents like the recent beating “raise justifiable protests from staff members."

UE members collected over 500 signatures in less than a week on a petition supporting the union’s demands, and then marched into the office of DHHS Secretary Dempsey Benton on June 20 to deliver the petitions. It was the union's second protest at Sec. Benton's office in two weeks.

The union is also building a coalition of community organization, churches, patient advocacy groups, mental illness groups, homeless shelters and students organizations along with our union around demand for a one-year moratorium on downsizing Dix.

On May 29, over 200 mental health workers packed a public hearing on the crisis in North Carolina’s mental health system. The hearing – sponsored by Local 150 – featured testimony from health care technicians, nurses, kitchen workers, housekeepers, maintenance staff, and other frontline workers from throughout the statewide system of psychiatric hospitals and special treatment centers. The hearing received widespread coverage from Raleigh-area news media, including newspapers, TV and radio stations.

“We want to make the public very aware of our situation,” said Larsene Taylor, chair of the UE 150’s DHHS Council. “We want to provide quality care for the patients of North Carolina. Patients are always first.”

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