A Local Worker Talks About His Union

Labor Day is right around the corner and the Valley Post is starting a series of profiles of Valley unions. Michael Barry is one of about 380 union workers at the mental hospital in Brattleboro. He started there in 1975. His job title is “mental health worker” at the Brattleboro Retreat.

Barry and his co-workers started organizing their union in the mid-1990s and finished in 2002. They are members of United Nurses and Allied Professionals. UNAP is based in Rhode Island and has about 5,000 members.

“The union contract has made the workers and the company accountable,” Barry said. “Now, everyone gets raises. Before we organized, the company would decide who would get a raise, and how much of a raise they got. Some years, some people might not get a raise at all. For our members who are single parents, it’s hard to get by financially.”

The Retreat is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. “The union has allowed us to know what shift we’re going to be on, and have a voice in how that’s decided,” Barry said. “We also have a say in how many patients per staff person there will be. Overall, it’s better for the patients now. It’s safer for them, and for the staff.”

The Retreat is doing well now. The company recently announced it will hire about 35 new workers this year. But a few years ago, things weren’t so good and layoffs were announced. “The union made sure layoffs were handled fairly, by seniority. And we made sure that people who got laid off were given priority in other departments that were hiring,” Barry said.

Bonnie Chase is president of UNAP’s “unit one” at the Retreat. Her unit includes nurses, social workers, and professional staff. Tom Flood is president of unit two, which covers people with the title “mental health worker,” and support staff. Barry is vice-president of unit two.

UNAP's contracts at the Retreat last three years. The current contract expires in the fall of 2010.

Jack Callaci works for UNAP. "For the past five or six years we have had very good relations with the Retreat,” he said. “Before that, things were bad there. It was a very tough organizing campaign. We went toe-to-toe, no holds barred. We won, and now we represent almost everyone there.”

Employers in the U.S. routinely violate federal labor law when their workers try to form a union. The companies are either never punished, or get a slap on the wrist, according to a new study by a Cornell University professor.

The study is at:

www.aflcio.org/joinaunion/voiceatwork/efca/upload/No_Holds_Barred.pdf

A major effort is underway in Congress to increase penalties for companies that break the nation’s labor laws. Info on that campaign is at:

www.americanrightsatwork.org/employee-free-choice-act/home

According to a study by the federal labor department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics called “Union Members in 2008,” union membership helps raise workers' pay and narrow the income gap that disadvantages minorities and women.

White male union workers earn 23 percent more than nonunion white male workers.

The union advantage is bigger for women and people of color. Union women earn 32 percent more than nonunion women. African American union members earn 28 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. For Latino workers, the union advantage is 43 percent.

More information on unions in the Valley is at:

http://valleypost.org/node/134

More information on Barry’s union and workplace is at www.unap.org and www.BrattleboroRetreat.org

Comments

Oh Please. UNAP and all

Oh Please. UNAP and all Unions Suck

NICE ARTICLE

I READ THE ARTICLE WITH INTEREST. IT PROVIDED A SHORT BUT FACTUAL COVERAGE OF THE HISTORY OF THE UNION AND IT'S RELATIONS WITH RETREAT MANAGEMENT.

SEAN WHELAN, OSGOOD 2 REP.

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