REDFIELD, S.D. – For the past year, workers at the South Dakota Developmental Center (SDDC) have been leading an organizing drive to address serious safety concerns and conditions at the facility – and in early March, their hard work paid off.
The direct support employees and medical assistants at SDDC voted overwhelmingly in favor of forming a local with AFSCME Council 65. As a result, 156 workers at that state-run facility are now covered by AFSCME.
As the organizing campaign got underway, former employee Paul Register resigned his position after nearly a decade at SDDC, amidst serious safety concerns that were not being addressed.
Residents of SDDC have intellectual and physical disabilities. Last year, former employees accused SDDC of “having a hostile administration, staff shortages and a dangerous work environment,” according to the Associated Press. The center’s director at the time resigned.
SDDC has 340 employees, but is short nearly 50 workers, Register told keloland.com, a local news consortium. According to Register, as of January, 2016, the number of resident assaults had increased so much that employees were afraid to come to work. Five sustained concussions, while another endured a facial laceration that had to be glued shut.
Furthermore, Register said, many of the residents come from a state correctional facility, though the SSDC is not set up to accommodate residents with such complex needs.
“My peers at SDDC led an employee union campaign for over a year,” Register said, according to a press release from Council 65. “I’m a little awestruck at their determination. They stayed unified to have a voice for better safety measures for SDDC clients and staff.”
In 2015, Register attempted to get the safety issues addressed by the state but ran into multiple roadblocks.
“The only reason the state took steps to address safety problems was these issues were now in the public’s eye, but not enough has been done,” he said.
The new AFSCME-represented employees will nominate co-workers to establish their bargaining team to start negotiations with SDDC. Their goal is to negotiate a contract that addresses safety concerns, hours of work, overtime and other working conditions.