CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State employees rallied at the Capitol on Monday for higher wages, better worker safety and protection of benefits.
The rally was made up of about 30 members of United Electrical Workers Local 170, based in Charleston.
At its seventh annual Presidents Day rally, UE Local 170 displayed posters stating: "End Favoritism, Honor Seniority," "Raise Our Pay, Not Our Workloads" and "Low Wages Hurt West Virginia."
While state agencies do not negotiate contracts directly with Local 170 or other unions, union organizations work to keep their voices heard around the Mountain State.
Andrew Dinkelaker, secretary-treasurer of the UE, said, "We represent over 1,000 members around the state. We want you to grow that number."
Deb Gornall, president of UE's Eastern Region, said Local 170 recently helped win a victory before Kanawha County Circuit Judge Duke Bloom, who awarded $500,000 in annual wage increases to workers at the state's two psychiatric hospitals -- Mitchell Bateman Hospital in Huntington and William R. Sharpe Jr. Hospital in Weston. Each annual raise was $2,000 a year.
"Even as Governor [Earl Ray] Tomblin continues to balance the [state] budget on the backs of state workers, we need to fight for the interests of those workers. We have to organize," Gornall said. "We're here to tell the Legislature that enough is enough."
Sherry Wilkins, who works for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said, "We are nowhere near equity and fairness in the grievance process.
"I have experienced harassment and retaliation for standing up for workforce rights when people file a grievance," Wilkins said. "Agencies are not held accountable for retaliation. There are no penalties for violations of the due process of employee rights."
Wilkins said three new pieces of legislation will be introduced to reform existing grievance procedures for state workers.
Jim Hawkins, who works at Sharpe, said, "State hospitals workers need more help. At Sharpe Hospital, there are more staff injuries than in the entire state Department of Corrections.
"I just came off of a two-month leave for broken ribs from an injury caused by a patient."