Oral History Interview With: Allen F. Layman
Interviewer: Hayden Van Dyke
Place: Western State Hospital
Date: April 5, 2006
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General topic of interview: The interview focused on Allen’s current work in a mental hospital and the relation his work and work similar to it have with other private sectors in Virginia that are involved in labor unions within the Shenandoah Valley. He discusses the challenges of the workers with pay, managers, and profiling while fighting Virginia’s right to work law.
Narrator: Allen F. Layman
Date: April 5, 2006
Interviewer: Hayden Van Dyke
Place: Western State Hospital
Birth date: November 26, 1946
Spouse: Currently divorced
Occupation: Program Manager, Psych Aid
Allen F. Layman is 56 year-old white male and is from Staunton, Virginia. He currently works as a program manager and part time Psych Aid at Western State Mental Hospital in Staunton. He has worked there over 30 years and has been actively involved in the labor union, UE (United Radio, Electrical and Machine Workers of America). He is currently the president of his local chapter of UE. He teaches the patients at the hospital various types of life skills that they can learn to apply as they become better.
Allen’s interview is very important to the oral history of the labor unions of the Shenandoah Valley. His testimony gives a current description of the conditions in places like a mental hospital where workers are unionized. He also gives a current description of the ins and outs of the labor union scene, including its strengths and weaknesses as well as its opportunities and threats. His testimony will allow researchers to look back on and use it as a base to see how labor unions have evolved since this point in time.
Hayden Van Dyke: This is Hayden Van Dyke. And today is April 5, 2006 and I’m sitting with Allen Layman, to interview him. I am a JMU senior for history 339. And so we will begin. Mr. Layman, can you start off kind of giving me your full name, a little biographical information, where you were born, when you were born?
Allen F. Layman: Uh, yea, my name is Alan F. Layman. Uh, I was born November 26, 1949 in Waynesboro, Virginia. My mother was uh, a homemaker, a stay-at-home mom. My father worked at DuPont for forty years. I have two older brothers. Went to Waynesboro high school, graduated there, attended Blue Ridge Community College. Went to work after, on a whim, here at Western State in 1972, and I worked about seventeen years when I decided I was going to try a business and so I quit. Tried a, uh, a private business for about three years and came back to work at Western State in ’92. So all totaled up been at Western over thrity years.
H: What was that private business that you operated?
A: A Subway Sandwich franchise.
H: Okay, um, are you currently married?
A: I am currently divorced. I have a 25-year-old daughter and she lives in L.A.
H: Okay, and can you tell me about um, before we jump into your involvement in labor unions, what types of jobs you were involved with in either throughout your college or your high school, before that, before you were actually part of any type of union?
A: Well, uh, here, I mean my, most of my job experience I guess, although I worked alot of odd jobs in high school and college and other things like that. I worked part-time jobs. Uh, my job duties here at Western and most of my work as a psych, a psychiatric aid, a charge aid, which is over a ward, uh I’ve been a developmental technician. Helped start a, what they call MR, mental retardation unit. I became a team leader. When I came back to Western State I was a recreation therapist, and now I’ve been a program manager since 2001 over at one of the psych and social rehab programs here at Western.
H: Can you tell me a little bit about what you do currently as a program manager?
A: I direct a psychosocial rehab program for anywhere from twenty to thirty-five uh, individuals with mental ill-, varying degrees of mental illness. We work on skills on daily living, they have classes, they go morning and afternoon. And it skilled development for things they need if they were to go progress to other treatments malls or higher levels or to group homes or nursing homes or even living by themselves. It’s life skills…on a lot of different things. But I direct the day-to-day running over of that event.
H: And you currently live in Staunton?
A: I live in Staunton?
H: So you’re pretty close about say 5-10 minutes away?
A: Five probably ten minutes.
H: Ten minutes. Can you explain to me how you started becoming involved with a union or started becoming part of it?
A: Well, I’ve always, my father was a member of the DuPont independent union. Although, I wouldn’t say he was a very strong union person because in the Valley you don’t really find a whole lot of, you haven’t in the past, it goes up and down, but it’s not really uh, just like Virginia, it’s not really a strong union environment. Part of it, if you read about how the right to work law came about. Here in Virginia.
H: Can you explain that a little bit…
A: Actually, I’ve printed off some stuff which, I’ll give you and it has some…this was done by a graduate student at the College of William and Mary, and it gives you a good idea of how the right to work law came to be in Virginia. A lot of it is based on the Jim Crow Era thing uh, situation that existed in Virginia and North Carolina, where blacks were tried to.tried to repress their vote. The powers that be tried to keep the poor whites and poor blacks separated if they could get, because if we could get them together, there is alot of economic and political power. But that’s, that’s, then there was the anti-communist hysteria of the 40’s and 50’s. You probably read about Senator Joe McCarthy and the McCarthy era…and we fell victim to some of that here, and it’s pretty interesting the whole thing about how that came about. I’ve always been kind of worker’s advocate even before I was in a labor union. I was a representative here when they tried to do a council here at Western State back in the ’70’s. I was a representative, and represented psych aides to the management. And then I had put inquiries into the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, uh, AFSCME. They’re a big national union in the AFL-CIO and because they weren’t doing anything down here I didn’t really hear anything from them until probably ’92 when I came back to work here and they were just starting to organize under the banner of VASE, Virginia Alliance of State Employees. And they were uh, they operated under the banner with the Communication Workers of America and AFSCME. They were organizing in correctional facilities and at some point in some of the mental hospitals.
H: So when you first got in, what like, the first process you said they asked you to join. How does one join and like what were some of your either responsibilities or duties or obligations?
A: Well at first, when I was, let’s say take AFSCME, I joined AFSCME, and we formed a local here at Western State and uh, it goes by different names, because I work for. when I talk about the union, now down the way a little bit, we call us chapters instead of locals but it means the same thing. We kind of more or less self govern. We elect president, vice president, uh chief steward, recording secretary. We had a number of other stewards, other people that were going through a grievance process and would take up a case. And you pay dues. We had dues reduction that we uh, former governor, what was his name, Doug Wilder. He gave us, when he was governor, he gave us dues deduction because there is especially a lot of almost hysteria, it’s not quite as bad as it was at one time over public employees joining, because we have an absolute ban on striking or collective bargaining. Which you’ll read about in the information I gave you, so…
H: What were the dues? Curious, what were the dues you had to pay?
A: Well they varied. They went everything from beginning around I think $5 a pay period up to when we got what they call a council 27, it went up to 1% of your base pay. That’s a whole story in itself about, about the same time we had a lot of corrections officers, and we’d done a lot of lobbying in the General Assembly to get them additional pay raise uh, let them go under something called Valors which is an early retirement plan but with more money. And when they got this task it was about the time we did our initial 1% of base pay well, we lost probably a quarter to uh a third of our membership because a lot of them looked at that and said, “My god, I’m making $40,000 now, 1% of that you know, you can do the math.” They start thinking, Jeez, and then a lot of them dropped. And then we had to put a cap on it. And then about 2000, we had I guess you could call we had a convention down in Richmond. The board which I sat on representing mental health, many of us got voted out and a lot of interesting. I still harbor a lot of, I guess you could call it anger over the whole thing with that.
H: Can you explain, like, I’m trying to understand the situation. You got, you say you got harbored out?
A: We got voted out. The board.
H: Why do you think it is? Is it political reasons?
A: We had a couple, we had at the time, three organizers. They were all African-Americans, one was male and two females. Little did we know they were going the state of Virginia, being paid by us, and there was some, let me use the term, “racism” involved. They didn’t like white people. And the fact that a lot of the people that were, that were on this board were white, they didn’t like it. So they went around the state and more or less lied about a lot of things and when the convention came up, the comment made by our then vice-president who was, worked at MCV-VCU, he was African-American, he made the comment right before we convened that “now we’re going to get some color on this board.” And I just was totally offended because I had been, have been, I have very big advocate, proponent of the whole issue of you know, color, taking a look at the color, the content and the character rather than the color of the skin, as Martin Luther King [Jr.] said, and I was just totally devastated by this whole thing. And uh, when this happened I didn’t feel like, and also AFSCME, the national AFSCME, started because we didn’t have collective bargaining as a public employee. Really weren’t recognized by management across the state. They started and that was about the time of the 2000 election, AFSCME had put millions of dollars into the Al Gore campaign and of course he lost. And they started withdrawing from Virginia, withdrawing resources, they were giving us a subsidy for office rent down in Richmond, they started cutting back on that. Pretty soon they cut it out all together. And we were more or less left hanging eventually by the national, and I hold a lot of resentment toward them for that. I couldn’t get them to return phone calls. So I more or less thought after this happened that, I couldn’t stomach staying in a union like this, that I was in. And I had met George Waksmunski, who had come from Pittsburgh down. He was with the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America. We had done a number of things together. Demonstrations, activities, I had admired him for his tenacity and his dedication. We had founded an organization in the area called SHOC, Shenandoah Organizing Committee. That was supposed to be made up a lot of the AFL-CIO and independent unions. But there’s, see our union, was depending on who you asked, we’ll say back in the 50’s when we were part of the original CIO, and we were caught up in all of that anti-communist hysteria stuff. And the, our union was kicked out of the AFL-CIO. And the AFL set up another electrical union to compete with us and just decimated our membership.
H: So you say they kicked you out and then they introduced a new…?
A: Well, I’m really jumping. This went back into the 50’s.
A: But anyway, we got kicked off the board for AFSCME 27 and I decided that, that if I could talk to my membership here, we would withdraw from AFSCME, which would be a death blow to them in Virginia. And we would join with the UE, and we did.
H: How does that work in terms of you being in working with mental patients and things like that. Do you have to have a certain criteria to join a union like that, where it’s like radio, electrical, mechanical?
A: Well, see that’s kind of funny. See we branched out; the UE has branched out over the years. We have a public service sector out in Iowa. We have public sectors, probably four or five, we have a big public sector union down in North Carolina. New Jersey. We have the University of Vermont. So we branched out because if you’re trying to stay solely in the manufacturing base, because originally UE was started in General Electric and Westinghouse working on the radios and televisions and things like that. But you know all of that is going overseas or it’s already gone. And if you were to stay in something like, solely manufacturing, you’re dead. You can’t grow. So they made a decision a number of years ago to branch out into other sectors.
H: What other kind of sectors do you see in terms of like the types of occupations?
A: Well, state, county, public employees are the fastest growing part of the union that’s in the union. Because they are one of the few areas that’s growing. I mean manufacturing; it’s a crapshoot. Whether you’re going to have something that you’re going.some activity you’re going to be doing is going to stay in this country. I mean, we had a local in Waynesboro; it used to be the old General Electric plant in Waynesboro. Genicom bought it out and then another company bought it out. They made special types of transistors and electronics stuff that were used in a lot of our military weapons. And a company came in and bought them and transferred the, as I understand it, transferred down to North Carolina the whole line. And then eventually, I believe it went off-shore so we have some country that’s manufacturing stuff that’s used in our missiles and our defense aids and they, we fought really hard at that time to save that plant, but we couldn’t. The politicians wouldn’t help. It eventually went out of business. We also although, UE 160 public service were different from the McQuay plant down in Verona you went through, they make Air Conditionings, units, they are international, multi-national company based in Malaysia bought them out years ago. And George, if you talk to him, can tell you all about that. But you know, we’re diverse. We have a lot of different jobs. But anyway that’s when we moved in with UE and left AFSCME.
H: Trying to get some background information on the UE local 160. How long has it been around? I know you said when you jumped into it, but how long has the actual union been around, do you know?
A: Well the Virginia Public Service Workers Union itself, which is part of the national union, has been around for four years. Now UE has been around since about 1936. We are one of the older, oldest unions.
H: And, directly, your, what is your role now as part of the UE?
A: I am currently president of the state union. We have chapters right now at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Central State Hospital in Petersburg, Western State here in Staunton, College of William and Mary, Piedmont Geriatrics, and we are actually looking at a couple of other places right now. We are actually looking at some private sector. We are looking at the Aramark Company down at Aramark workers, down at, the food services down at William and Mary, they are totally private.
H: When you said, I’m not trying to repeat myself…
A: It’s fine, It’s fine…
H: You said, I mean, nowadays with the private sector you are trying to get more occupations involved because there are less manufacturing and the radio and the electric, there are a lot more done over seas than here in the country. What would these occupations, you know you said, there’s a lot of, most of them were state, local, and government agencies. Why is it such a big need for them to join your union?
A: Well, typically, many of the work force.a lot of the workforce is very underpaid. I can, I just had an interview, that was published in the Augusta Free Press about housing in this area. And I mentioned that here at Western State, which is Staunton’s largest employer about 700 people. I think the reporter, Chris Grams, said that about a tenth of the workforce here gets paid $20,000 or under. I often cite the twenty, now twenty-two year-old housekeeper that I use a lot in examples. She came to work here, hadn’t been here quite a year, she made some unfortunate choices, but she has two kids under three or four, single mother. Came here as a housekeeper last year and she was making $14,000 and some change. Kid for that age, got a hell of a work ethic. She came to work here and I would notice she worked a different shift – 8 to 4:30. And I noticed that when everyone else left at 3:30, she could have sat back and kicked back and relaxed. This kid was out here scrubbing chair legs and table legs and working up until 4:30. It got to be funny; we called her “flash” because she was on the ball. She recently applied and got a job as a psych aid, and she went from fourteen and change to eighteen and change. Which you think, “that’s great,” you know, but you also found out that apparently the cut off for her subsidized childcare was at $17,800. So she will probably lose her subsidized childcare. And you think this kid can’t get a break. But a lot of people we represent make 14,000, 16,000 and they’re single parents. Sure they got..the state always touts its great benefits, but if you’re not making enough money to pay the co-pays. Your kid has to go to the doctor twice in a two week period and you have a $25 co-pay, $50 is big for somebody and the medicine, 25-30 dollars co-pay for that. You’re talking about a big chunk of change. If they got to run a test, you could pay half your income, when you’re making these lousy amounts. I have currently three employees that are working as, we call them P-14s, temporaries. They retired from here, two or, one retired as a psych aid after thirty years. One retired as a recreational person. Another one was a recreation therapist. He actually had been here close to forty years. He retired with pretty good, based on a pretty good salary; he had to come back to work because of the health insurance premiums. He hadn’t reached Medicare age yet and it was eating him alive. So he works nine hours a week. The other two work 30-35 hours a week to supplement their income. I had one guy that retired, he came back to work as a P-14, then he froze his retirement. He came back to work full time in the motor pool. Health Insurance. They couldn’t afford the health insurance. In the state of Virginia, there are a lot of people here that are making under $20,000. And I pretty much deduced, that if you’re putting in your thirty years here and you’re making under $40-45,000, unless you can get some little job or something you can’t have any kind or type of life. You can’t go take a trip to the beach or something, you can’t do it. Unless maybe your spouse if you’re married, has a job but what, where has retirement gone? What does it mean for people anymore? It means for these people that work for this program right now who got to come back to work. This can be a very stressful and dangerous…you’re dealing with people who are very sick sometimes. And I mean, one lady, Tooty, she’s 70, she just went through this whole thing with this Medicare part D thing in January where she had to go without medication for like a month, because she couldn’t pay the co-pay for that. So I had to see her be ill for two weeks. So we’re seeing part of the great American dream erode. And that’s one where I, workers rights and the plight of people, that take care of the least of us. I’ve seen this happen for thirty years. And we’d be told you don’t hear as much now, but we used to be told, “You’re a dime a dozen. I can get anybody off the street to come in here and do your job.” It’s not true. It’s not true. You’re in here, you’re cursed, you’re threatened, you’re kicked, you’re hit, you’re bit, you’re kicked. Just incredible, not to mention cleaning urine up, feces, spit, vomit. I haven’t had to do any direct care work for many years because of positions I’ve had. But I’ve recently, just so I could earn a little bit more money, I took a P-14 temporary job, as an aide working weekends up on the ward upstairs mainly. And I realize that I did that then in December and I realize that the real value of wasn’t so much the little bit extra money. It was the, I got to see what, again and experience and remember what these aides and housekeepers go through daily. Coming in not knowing if you’re going to be able to go home for hours because they’re short staffed and they had to keep you over. Working third shift for instance and you’re informed that you have to stay over because somebody called in sick. You got two kids at home with somebody taking care of them. You got to get home to get them to school, but they won’t let you go. You know, what do you do? What situations you’re put in. If the kids are young enough, walk out in the street, get hit or police pick them up and social services are on you. It’s happened, it’s happened. And we you know, we got 117,000 full time employees in Virginia, and a good portion of them are making under, I’ll use $20,000. $20,000 is nothing anymore. The price of gas? You’ve heard about heating, gas, and oil has gone up to. Yea, it’s really incredible. So those kinds of workers’ issues are something I felt strongly about over the years ever since I started out. So that’s why as frustrating as it is that’s why I’m involved with it.
H: A question I have, thinking about some of things I’ve been hearing about in terms of my future after I graduate, is this idea that companies are going to start moving away from retirement packages because they’re putting more emphasis on 401K type things. For these employees who are making less than $20,000, you know, they didn’t have the option, do they have the option to do the 401K?
A: We have a retirement. State pays retirement. It’s just not enough. Now they pay, there used to be you contributed to it, now the state pays it all. They also have a 401K where they match, if you put forty bucks in a pay period, the state matches it with twenty. But in order to really, you know, throw out the whole crapshoot with this stocks and bonds and stuff. I know a lot of people were into this when 2001 came around the stock market tanked, they lost thousands of dollars. So if you’re banking on these 401K’s to be your retirement, you know, I know the whole thing that the stock market has traditionally gone up and everything but there are a lot people are running around with their portfolios dropped in half. I do it, but I don’t do it with any thought that that’s going to be necessarily part of my retirement. I hope it will be but I think this type and the state’s actually trying to move towards that. We have had a couple of legislative alerts that they’re trying to go towards that. It’s like, everyone’s trying to cut costs. To get away from that defined permanent pension plan.
H: One of the other things too that I’ve been hearing about is this idea that by the time, my, my generation is ready to retire we are not going to have anymore social security. It’s going to be obsolete.
A: I think a lot of that is bogus.
A: Now they’re going to have to do some things to fix it. And obviously I’m not a very big fan of George Bush, you can tell that. I don’t know what the country, when we get through this what’s going to happen. There’s a lot of infrastructure and social safety nets that are deteriorating and going by the wayside. I don’t know what’s going to happen. They’re going to have to do something to fix Social Security for down the road, when boomers retire. As I understand it from everything that I’ve seen is that, we still, it’s going to be ok. But they’re going to have to make some fixes. But I think you’ll, I think you’ll have something.
H: Okay, so take me, looking down the road, as president of your union, five to ten years down the road, what goals have you and your organization set for the workers that are involved?
A: The main thing now, we have to build our political power. If you Google, like I did, you’ll notice a couple of things per we endorsed Senator Russ Potts for Governor this past time. And a lot of people thought we were crazy, because we should have gone with Tim Kaine. I know Tim real well. I could go into that some time but I won’t right now. Russ Potts has done more for state workers in the last six months than we’ve had any of politician do for us. He’s intervened personally in cases. We had two workers at William and Mary, a housekeeper and a building and grounds person, that were fired because they spoke to the press. There was a suicide.a student committed suicide. The housekeeper and the buildings and grounds person were interviewed by somebody from the Daily Press. They fired them, and we intervened as a union. And we communicated to Russ and Russ called the president up of William and Mary and saw Dr. Sullivan. And they hired the two people back and apologized.
H: What was their reasoning?
A: They aren’t supposed to talk to the press. In fact what they said about the student was that he was a nice person, he was a good guy, it was all positive. It wasn’t like they said he was a jerk or a boozer or a drug user. They said he was a good guy from what they could tell. It was simple, probably less than a paragraph and they were fired. We see, I liken it, and a lot of people don’t like my terminology but I see a lot of in the state, I see a lot of what I liken to the plantation mentality. But still, we still have people that should know. I was stopped for speeding going down 250 to Waynesboro a few years back. A state trooper got out and at the time, I had AFSCME 1 license plate because I was still in AFSCME. He asked me what the license plates meant and I told him. I said, “We’re a public employee union.” “Well state employees can’t belong to a union.” So I’m sitting there and I say, “Well yes they can sir. They can belong to a union. We just can’t do collective bargaining and we can’t strike.” “No you can’t belong to a union.” Well, I’m sitting there arguing with this state trooper and I’m thinking, I’m about to get a ticket for speeding. And I’m about to get a ticket for something else. But he’s wrong. And we have a lot of supervisors, we are finally I think breaking into mental health, the department of mental health, we’re breaking in high level meetings, high level meetings in the last couple of months that Russ Potts set up with the Secretary of Health and Human Resources and the commissioner and they’re actually getting.disseminating guidelines to the facility directors that we should be allowed on the grounds as a union with guidelines. They should be a little bit friendlier. Because they realize their resources, their employees, we have a huge turnover of employees. In fact I wish I actually, when we go out to the car, I’ll give you it’s a Senate Finance Committee study on the State Public Employee Workforce. How many could retire, why they leave, it’s just kind of interesting background stuff. But a lot of this really nasty behavior, petty, nasty behavior, and it waste huge amounts of energy and money in this state. And to think that we got a laugh about it when we think, Governing Magazine came out here last year and said we were the best-managed state in the United States.
A: If Virginia is the best managed state, I hate to think what some of these other states are. They must be hellholes. Because we waste so much money on things. Just personnel issues. The way many employees are treated. And I see it not only here; I see it at my other chapters. I hear about things everyday. I mean, just recently, we had a good thing, one of our housekeepers, older lady worked here I think sixteen years. She was making 14 – $15,000. Imagine that long. She applied, she has arthritis in her knees, it’s conge-, it’s progressive. She applied for what they call a lead worker’s job here. It’s kind of a low-level supervisor, right over the housekeepers. Well they didn’t hire her. And they basically wrote on the interview sheet that they didn’t because she had a disability. Well, you’re talking about ADA stuff. We did complain a grievance. Anyway she recently found they other people called down in Richmond. They are giving her back pay to last March. Giving her, she’s getting a 10% raise, she’s getting a legal…[phone rings]
H: So you just got off the phone and you were talking about, it was a really important phone call. Would you tell me about it?
A: Yea. I was a little surprised. Because a lady from central office that we have met with, this is mental health, mental retardation, substance abuse, in Richmond. She’s kind of a liaison, liaison person. And she just called me and lucky I was here, I’m normally not here at the time. Said she’d been here at Western State yesterday and had talked to the director about would he be agreeable to meeting with say twenty union members to start off with in an environment where they can air their concerns and seeing if we can’t get some problems solved. And then maybe do another twenty. And she wants to initiate this at all of the facilities in Virginia to where their management will sit down and talk directly with employees that have concerns and gripes and try to solve some of those things.
H: How do you think management will take to these ideas? Do you think they’re going to be easy to persuade?
A: No. I think you’re going to have a certain element that’s going to be defensive. Especially there’s, I was just talking to the lady, there’s a certain layer in between, not that I think the director is the 2nd coming, but he’s got his own management style problems. He kind of likes to let, his famous slogan in Virginia, “We want management to be able to manage.” So he lets his, ideally in a world, you hope you have managers that can handle things, and you don’t have to micro manage. But unfortunately as I was talking to her and she was agreeing with me, you have a lot of reprehensive behavior going on of how people are treated. Supervisors treating their employees, professional staff that look down on aides staff as if they’re not professional so I can talk to them like they’re stupid or ignorant. And it’s an institutional problem. It’s our version of the plantation mentality.
H: Can you describe, that’s the second time you have mentioned this plantation mentality. Can you describe what, exactly do you mean?
A: People, management types, look at para-professional staffs or housekeepers like they’re stupid, like they’re ignorant. Now we all have varying degrees of intelligence. But they, I made reference over the phone, to the last year in this building, we have had a tremendous turnover with housekeepers. There was hardly a day going by that I didn’t see something poor, this one lady Joyce who has since gone to work at the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind as a house keeper. Wasn’t a day that was going by that I didn’t see her mopping and crying. Mopping and crying. Because the lead worker had basically yelled at her and told her, she wasn’t doing it correctly. Instead of working with her, and chances are she was doing it correctly. I had a housekeeper that the new line worker came in, lead worker, told her to get on her knees and do the baseboards. The housekeeper said, “I have a doctor’s note because I have degenerative arthritis in my knees. I can’t get on my knees. I can sit on my butt and go around and do it that’s the way I’ve adapted.” “No, you’re going to get on your knees or I’m going to write you up.” And she got on her knees. In hindsight, she said, “I shouldn’t have done it but I was so intimidated, and I didn’t want to lose my job.” Imagine someone making $14,000 a year and they will take any matter of bullshit because they’re afraid they’ll lose that job, it happens a lot. She injured her knees, had to go out on workers’ comp. It deteriorated the knees more; they denied the workers’ comp because she had a pre-existing condition. She had to pay the bills. Stuff like that. Crazy stuff like that. We got a situation here at Western what we have called, where you, if you are on every other weekend, or if you call in on your weekend, say your Saturday, you have to make it up. Well you have, they have, a hospital instruction that’s based on progressive discipline based on working with people. But instead nursing implemented this thing where you automatically have to make it up another day. Well you’re given this, you’re given leave, it’s a benefit. You’re given sick leave. You can’t use it essentially. And they’ve had people that have worked with pneumonia; they’ve been in the hospital. We had one lady over here, never calls in sick; she was having heart palpitations one weekend. The O.D. came over and checked and said, “You need to go to the E.R. room and go home.” She wouldn’t do it. Because she was going to have to work the next weekend. Crazy stuff. People with pneumonia, people that never call in sick and there being made to make up the weekend. It’s draconian. You know, as a supervisor, I supervise people. I know, I’ve supervised people for many years. I know if someone is goofing off, they have problems, and you work with it. I mean, I haven’t called in sick for three years. So all of a sudden, if I was in nursing, and I started to have a couple bad whatever, pneumonia or whatever, you think I should be forced then to work another, I haven’t called in for three years, my God, use your sense! But that kind of stuff…
H: Is it, It seems it’s a common theme, it’s these supervisors that are right above the housekeepers and aides. Are they the main problem that you, or is it the institution itself?
A: There are pockets. There are pockets. Like I said, I think the director here does too much of this, “I want my managers to manage.” So he doesn’t, a lot of times when we go through the grievance process, and he is the third step before we go request a grievance hearing. He doesn’t know any of this stuff is going on. We had an RN for instance, that was hired what was called the Baylor Plan. It was two sixteen hours and an eight-hour instead of a five day a week. And this person is a nurse practitioner, which means advanced training. He came in one day, on admissions ward, a patient got really angry because they weren’t sure if they were going to be able to let her go out and smoke. The patient lunged towards him, he put his hands up like this, they fired him for not using a non-therapeutic technique. We grieved it for him and got his job back for him. But you know what, he’s leaving. He came back, got all of his back paying benefits, but he said, “I don’t want to work in a place like this.” The investigator that wrote it up would say things like, “So you thought she was coming toward you.” “Yea, I guess I thought she was coming toward me.” “So you put your hands up and put them on her.” “No, I didn’t do that. I put my hands up and she came towards me.” Because that’s another thing in case you don’t know, in this business you can’t use any defensive techniques. You can’t hit back, you can’t twist, you can’t grab, or very much. You have certain guidelines that you can do.
H: So putting your hands up and physically stopping someone from taking a hold of you…
A: That’s not, you should, they said you should have done this technique where you stepped to the side. Of course, he was in an environment where he couldn’t step to the side, he had a chair behind him and walls so he couldn’t step to the side.
H: And they don’t make extenuating circumstances? I mean to fire a guy on the spot without, and then trying to like, [muffled}…the wording of it….
A: They kept him around while the investigation was going on and also because they were short staffed. But then when the investigation came back, and I think it goes to Richmond now, central law offices, they fired him. And of course, if you’re a nurse or a certified nursing assistant, you have a license or a certification, the nursing board is going to investigate you. We dealt with that. We tell nurses and CNA’s that especially if they take a lesser charge, something like non-therapeutic interaction, we tell them that chances are it’s going to be investigated by the nursing board so save all of your stuff so you can explain what’s going on. You’re talking about your livelihood.
H: Well if these kinds of things are going on and even with someone who’s an RN or those types of things, what is to persuade someone you know, who has a license, who has the idea and the possibility of losing it with these kind of situations, what is the motivation to even come work here?
A: We have a problem with retention. I was probably, you probably heard [phone rings]. Yeah there’s a real retention problem and even a recruitment problem. Because in this area for instance, and it’s this way in a lot of places, there’s only a finite source, you don’t have an endless amount of RN, there’s a shortage of RN’s nationally anyway. They’re bringing in RN’s, we have a couple of Jamaican RN’s now, that they brought here in they’re special program. And nurses talk to other nurses. You run into them at various places. You have friends that are in the profession. You know, you see an ad in the paper, or these spots they ran on the radio you know, “Great Benefits!! Come to work!!” They say, “What you, you worked at Western State, what do you think? “Don’t go there. Don’t go.” And this happens in other facilities too. I mean they were seventy nurses short at Eastern State and we understand when the joint commission came to do their survey they failed. They got a conditional thing that they…they were seventy RN’s short. And a lot of them, one lady quit there at Eastern State, and came up here to finish out her last years because she was so tired of working incredible overtime. But…again it goes back to that whole thing about the statement that used to be made that “You’re a dime a dozen.” “I can get people off the street to work.” You can’t. You may get them here, but they’re not going to stay. Because they’re either going to get freaked out and quit or they’re going to get abusive and they’re going to get fired.
H: Do you ever have any incidences, cause I know, you’re talking about the housekeepers and different people getting, having grievances, but have any of them been harassed like, physically or anything like by their supervisors or people who, these people who have that plantation mentality and are trying to be overbearing on them. Do those kind of issues ever arise? Or are they a rare occurrence?
A: Oh we have a lot of intimidation of employees. Various types. A couple of years ago we had a situation where a house keeping supervisor over the lead workers, was sexually harassing and had a history of it, was sexually harassing a woman. She finally, she was a union member, and one day she said, “I just got to talk to you.” And I said, “Well sure you can talk to me anytime you want.” She said, “Well, I’m afraid that what I’m going to tell you you’re going to think I’m making it up or you’re going to think it’s my fault.” Which is a typical, when it comes to sexual harassment, is a typical response in a lot of women. So she sat in here and started crying and talking about this supervisor, who had been here forever. I like the guy personally, he’s a nice guy. He used to play the piano on our Friday afternoon’s Gospel sing. But he was groping her. He’d get in the mop closet and grope her. She’s married. Tried to feel her. Things like that. and he’d say, “You know if you try to say anything to anyone they won’t believe you.” Typical, typical stuff you read about. And I sat here and I’m thinking, “What in the hell am I going to do?” Because it’s a political sensitive thing. This guy was well-liked. He’d been here forty years. She, she had problems in the past with various things, you know emotional problems. But she looked at me and she said, “You know I’m telling you the truth. But I don’t think anybody will to believe me.” Well we filed a grievance and shit hit the fan. He ended up, they allowed him to retire, she left. She took medical leave and eventually quit her job, went with her husband who was a trucker and went around the country. I personally don’t like the resolution to it, but the guy’s not here, because this is not the first time he apparently harassed people.
H: Oh really?
A: Yeah, he sired a child. One housekeeper. But you know, I guess they figured well if anybody looks into they’re going to find out all of this stuff has gone on. Stuff like that and it’s not just here, we’re probably better than a lot of places. I had at William and Mary, a Korean, William and Mary, we had a housekeeper there, that an upper supervisor, she was Korean-American, didn’t speak good English. He would take a $50 bill out. He claimed he was joking but, he would say, “If you have sex with me I’ll give you 50 dollars.” And she was you know insulted. And she kept telling him to stop. Finally, we had to initiate a grievance. And they didn’t even know what the grievance procedure was down there and they’re a state agency. And just ludicrous, then they tried to write her up for being subordinate because she was expressing herself. I could probably if I sit here, and I know between George and I, we could tell you hundreds of things. And this is the best-governed state? Think of the money and it cost probably $6,000 to train people on average. And if they stay here a few months and leave. And she was just now talking about that. The recruitment, keeping people, retention. She’s talking about they’re going to do a video, that each institution could tailor to show after they get people through the finger printing and background and drug testing to see if they’re clean, they’re going to show them this video about what to expect. Because a lot of people, as I was saying, they see “One flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest.” Or that, and they think about, they’ve never seen a real mentally ill person before except maybe something on the news, somebody up a ledge or something. Or something they read in the paper.
H: Well how much different is it, and obviously “One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest” with Jack Nicholson it’s one of those classic movies. And maybe a lot of people have seen and have not. But, when you say it’s completely different, do you mean it’s, like how do, in what ways?
A: Well at one time it was more like that. And I understand at some facilities it may be stuff that goes on, I mean I was back before they had the patient’s rights, which came about in 1976. And there’s a lot of dismal stuff that got, went on. And you know, most of the people now, the direct care people, be it a nurse or an aide or whatever that do anything, you know eventually if you’re a rotten apple you get tossed now. But for example we had a patient today who is very difficult, very psychotic…[muffled talk by Allen about something seen on his cell phone].There’s this patient that was down here, and she’s been very resistant to taking her medication and was very psychotic. We have these name, plastic name badges, they’re actually pocket protectors that have their name on a clip. And my assistant was trying to get her to go to her room and so that lady was sitting in the room with her leg’s crossed, and my assistant just took her name tag and, to give you an idea of what it looks like so you can see what’s it not exactly something that somebody, it looks like this. She just tapped her on her knee. Well you thought you she took, knee capped her, took her knee off. Lady was screaming, “You, You hit me in my knee, I can’t walk. I can’t do this.” All of this. Well, things like that you’re supposed to turn in whether it’s you or others, you’re supposed to turn it in for abuse and it’s supposed to be investigated. It’s just bizarre.
H: You know, because that makes me curious how that works. Because obviously these people are here and they’re patients, and they have rights, as they should. But at the same time they’re here because they have some kind of mental illness which you know, is affecting their perception of the world around them and…
A: Well what’s happened is, it’s almost a counter-reaction, if you want to use that term, because there have been so many abuses all over the United States in the past that it’s almost gone the other way. And I mean I feel a real advocate for patients too. I’m an advocate and I generally get along with most of them pretty well. I generally, just like employees, have concerns. I want to see people helped. I get calls all the time from former patients that I’ve known over the years and they’ll call and check in, let me know how they’re doing. But it’s scary sometimes. Like I have a lady up on the ward when I work weekends, and we have to check her every half hour, and check them, and we’re supposed to make visual sight. And really you’re supposed to see if they’re breathing and all of that. But at night you don’t want to turn the lights on in the room every half hour so you check with a light. So I’ll go up maybe to the window and I’ll turn on the light and shine it, long enough to see. Well, she said I was shining laser beams in her eyes. Raising hell with the doctor and the nurse, the nurse came down to talk to me and everything. And I said, “Bev, I’m checking them to see, I have to physically check to see if they’re breathing.” I said, “I guess I could use a white light, but is that going to…” But with this lady it didn’t make any difference. She with her illness she’s been, they’re lowering the medication they were trying her on and she’s psychotic. And you know, but theoretically they could have investigated me and I was going through my mind, I’m going to have to get ready to defend myself. And of course, if you’re on the lower end of the pay scale, I mean I’ve represented people that were making the seventeen thousand a year and they get fired and they’re trying to go through the process because if they go up and apply for unemployment the hospital is going to fight them on it. And we’ve been winning those lately, if the person really is innocent. But they’re trying to get by, they didn’t have anything to begin, any money to begin with, and now they don’t have nothing coming in. They don’t have their health insurance any longer. They’re thinking, what am I going to do? I’ve had to pay freedom of information requests for people or give them gas money so they can go to a hearing or something because they had no money. We had a guy that worked up on our block mall – psyche aide. He had sleep apnea, which is covered under ADA. Unfortunately I didn’t get to his case in time. If he had come to me I could have…he was up on this block mall where basically he’s a big guy. His job is to sit there and if there’s one of the patients, this is the mall where they go and they act out, he’s to get up and try to hold them or get them to calm down. Well he had sleep apnea and every once in a while he’d start falling asleep. Well they grouped him and gave him a group for it. He went to the doctor and they were trying to work with him in the sleep clinic. Happened again. He got turned in and got fired. Now if he had come to me at the beginning we could have gotten accommodation for him under ADA, all that stuff. But I was so pissed because he was a good worker and a good guy. He was decent; he was kind to the patients. It was just so wrong.
H: You hate to see that happen.
A: But you see it everyday. And it’s a finite source of employees.
H: Well, this, we’ve definitely covered a lot this hour. I really appreciate you taking your time…
H: I was going to let you, anything else that you really you know, if there’s anything you wanted to say…
A: Well, I kind of in a way, I don’t know if this really helps your idea about the labor in the Valley because I’m more or less got on a tangent about stuff, because I feel so strongly about. I guess because I deal with the issues everyday so it’s kind of hard to separate yourself. It’s a difficult thing to be in, because the Valley as well as Virginia generally is so anti-union. They think of the Jimmy Hoffa’s. They think of, and I got problems with some of the big unions, with how much money some of their leadership make. And the perks and things. And we’re not making it down here because what I do is essentially volunteer. And I think it’s a real shame that labor’s gotten such a bad name among, because a lot of people workers have nothing, no advocate. I mean the lady was just asking me about our human resource person here. I was reluctant to say anything right off, but then she kind of voiced what I was thinking. I hear she’s not the greatest. That she plays favorites, things like that. And yeah you could say that. They have nobody. They don’t know they’re rights. They don’t what they can do, or what they can’t do. I mean you have to work a year to even get, become classified. To where you have any grievance procedure. They can let you go…We had a person in the cafeteria that worked up until the last day of the year. Had good reviews and everything. Had a run-in over sick leave or a day off. They fired her. One day before her, fired her. And she filed for unemployment and the hospital spent I don’t know how much money paying some of the top managers to go down to the hearing at the unemployment office and we beat it. She got, this was all over, she was awarded I think 500 and some dollars and they appealed that. She eventually got it, think of the money that was wasted. Sending those people doing conference calls and the whole process anyway just because they had a thing against them because she spoke up. It’s just, but if, if, I just look solely on progress I’d be on massive amounts of anti-depressants because progress is extremely slow. Now this call from a central office person, I won’t hold my breath, but it might be progress. If we can get a dialogue going across the state we might have happier employees which will mean better patient care, which will mean less money on having to retrain people and having to drag people in to work. But you don’t go into this vocation, because it is like a full-time unpaid job, you don’t go into it if you’re easily discouraged. It’s not a day that goes by that, this housekeeper that we won the DUC complaint, I really thought we had it, and we were not going to get anywhere. And she would call me every day and I would listen to her and listen to her and I just felt so sorry for her because this woman was screwed over. And then you know, we when the CEO saying they give her back money and give her a position and make accommodations. That’s positive. That’s a little something. And you kind of just count the small victories and hope you’re around long enough to see some other victories. But read about the right to work law in Virginia. It’s an interesting to see what it’s based on. That’s why when they, this general assembly when they turned down Danny Leblaum, to be the governor secretary of the Commonwealth because he’s been the president of the Virginia AFL-CIO for fifteen years. And he was arrested for the coal strikes down in Southwest Virginia.
H: Oh really?
A: He’s had some harsh comments about the right to work law in Virginia and they held it against him, some of them. And they didn’t approve him because of that. And I say you read about the history of the right to work law and find that it was based on racist philosophy and how can you, how can you be proud of it? Sure a lot of businesses want to come here because you don’t have compulsory union stuff, I understand that. But the law is based on a racist past. And they need to come to terms with that. And, I don’t think most of them know the origin of it.
H: The Jim Crow Laws…
A: The origin of the right to work law, but that gives you a good synopsis.
H: Well thank you Allen.