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Former Iowa Nurse Speaks Up for Union Bill in Congress

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A former nurse and AFSCME member who was attacked in the workplace last year spoke up in favor of congressional proposals that would safeguard union rights for public service workers like her.

Tina Suckow, of Hawkeye, Iowa, joined members of Congress today on a press call to tell her story and urge passage of the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act.

“I knew when I started working at the Independence Mental Health Institute that working in a mental health facility could be dangerous,” Suckow said.

Yet nothing could have prepared her for the day – Oct. 24, 2018 – when a patient attacked her, causing her head, knee and shoulder injuries that required hospitalization and surgery. Eight months later, she is still recovering.

After her medical leave expired, the state of Iowa refused to allow her co-workers donate their vacation days to Suckow. Her managers also denied her request for unpaid leave. Then they fired her.

“They shouldn’t be able to do this,” Suckow said. “But since Iowa gutted collective bargaining, workers’ voices have been silenced and employers are free to make workplaces less safe.”

She supports the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act because the legislation would help prevent such injustices and give public sector workers more freedom to have a seat at the table.

“If this legislation had been enacted, I would have been able to file a grievance through my collective bargaining contract after being unfairly fired,” Suckow said.

Pennsylvania Rep. Matthew Cartwright, who sponsored the House version of the bill (H.R. 3463), said public sector workers are hardworking people who keep our families safe and our streets clean and they deserve fair wages and safe workplaces.

“This bill will make sure that public employees are empowered to fight for fair wages and working conditions,” he said during the press call.  

Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono is the sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation (S. 1970).

The House and Senate bills would give public sector workers the same basic rights and freedoms enjoyed by workers in the private sector, helping ensure that public service employees can join together in a union and collectively bargain over wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment.

Immediately following the call, the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions held a hearing on the legislation. In his testimony before the panel, AFSCME International’s Teague Paterson, deputy general counsel, urged Congress to pass the legislation.

“The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act empowers the Federal Labor Relations Authority to protect the right of public service employees to join a union to collectively bargain, to access dispute resolution mechanisms and to be free from the imposition of rigged recertification elections,” he said. “This bill is needed because in many states and communities, public service workers have been denied their fundamental rights.”

(Contributing: Jay Hutchison)