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Louisiana Members Step up Actions for Workplace Safety, Funding

To stop violent attacks, employees of Louisiana’s Pinecrest Supports and Services Center used their union, and the news media, to get the word out.
Louisiana Members Step up Actions for Workplace Safety, Funding
By Clyde Weiss and Raju Chebium ·

AFSCME members in Louisiana are stepping up their game to improve their communities and their workplaces – and reaping success. 

Here are two examples. 

At Pinecrest Supports and Services Center, Louisiana’s last state-run facility for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, violent acts began increasing in 2013. Working through their union, AFSCME Local 712 (Council 17), Pinecrest’s staff turned up the heat to protect themselves and improve the services they provide to the state. For nearly six months, the staff documented the rising number of incidents and filed grievances. 

Pinecrest workers found an ally in their fight – the local newspaper.

The Advocate of Baton Rouge published an article that led to changes. Helping the paper tell the story were the members of Local 712, who wanted to get the message out that conditions were growing grim at the 95-year-old facility, located in Pineville.

The state had cut budgets and personnel and shuttered all facilities but Pinecrest in 2013 to save money, and transferred most patients to privately-run group homes. That still left Pinecrest’s staff to handle the more violent patients who were not transferred elsewhere. When the workers reported violent incidents, however, some were cited for neglect and abuse, even though later investigations proved them innocent, a union official said. 

Last September, union members told administrators that they could make Pinecrest safer by moving the more violent clients to other state-run facilities equipped to better handle them. Administrators acknowledged the problem and took some steps to reduce the risk of violence, but Pinecrest was still left with the more hard-core clients.

As violence continued to increase, the union’s leadership met with The Advocate to get the story out to the community, with the aim of persuading management to take corrective action.

The Advocate reported that staff filed 524 violent incident reports in a 12-month period – at a facility “where three years ago virtually no violence took place.” The paper also reported that 196 staffers “were punched, usually in the face, and 65 were scratched in the past year.”

That did the trick. On April 4, The Advocate ran another story, headlined: “Some unruly, violent Pinecrest patients transferred after details of frequent attacks emerge.”

Pinecrest is but one instance where AFSCME members in Louisiana stood up for themselves, their workplaces and their communities. They are moving in other directions as well to make an impact on improving their communities.

Another example came just last week, when 10 state workers and AFSCME members testified at a Louisiana legislative hearing in Baton Rouge to speak up for public services and against massive corporate tax breaks that have drained revenue for critical services. 

The Louisiana House Appropriations Committee rarely hears from state workers due to a restrictive law that bars public employees from engaging in political activity. Yet, on April 18 and 19, AFSCME members bravely faced the committee and spoke about the devastating impact of funding cuts, which have led to a 40 percent loss in staffing and mounting workloads for state workers who remain. 

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