District 2 local bargains workplace violence language into new CBA

Though workers at Copper Country Mental Health in Houghton, Mich., obtained wage increases and pension improvements in their latest three-year contract, the benefit they’re most proud of bargaining is language regarding workplace violence.

Since 2012, violence against health care workers has increased by 30 percent, and mental health workers are not immune.

“Within the mental health system we work for, there’s been an increase in violence against workers across the many different departments, and we wanted a way to protect everyone,” said Rachelle Rodriguez, Local 7798 unit chair.

About half of all mental health professionals at all levels and practice settings can expect to be threatened by a patient at some point in their career. And according to the Department of Justice, between 2004 and 2009, mental health workers were second only to law enforcement officers in sustaining on-the-job violence.

These humbling statistics are more than mere numbers for people like Rodriguez, which is why she and her fellow bargaining committee members pushed for years for their employer to implement a true policy and procedure to prevent and contain consumer-inflicted violence. With their latest contract, ratified on September 19, their hard work paid off.

The workplace violence policy will be the result of a committee, which will include two members of the local’s negotiating team and will begin to meet no later than October 31.

All of this couldn’t have been done without the local members rallying together and working toward what they knew was right, said USW Staff Representative Chris Haddock.

“This local has been tireless at working towards the safety of their members,” Haddock said. “It’s an absolute common thing for all of the committees to talk about safety, including during orientation, and the importance the union plays in that at work.”

The reason obtaining specific language regarding workplace violence is so important is because there is often no legislation in place to protect health care workers.


Right to left is Unit Chair Rachelle Rodriguez, committee member Vicki Paavo, Local 7798 President Rich Simpson,and committee member Scott Skotarczyk. Not pictured is Evelyn Livingston-Brady.

The USW has been pushing to change this through its “Safe Jobs Now” campaign, a nationwide action to push for the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309/S. 851). This bill would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to ensure workplaces develop and implement violence prevention plans like the one Local 7798 members have obtained in their contract.

You can learn about this campaign to help stem the epidemic of workplace violence in health care and how you can get involved by clicking here.

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