By Nancy Fish, UAW 2322 Servicing Representative
Violence seems to be everywhere; it’s always in the news. You may have witnessed violence at work on occasion, or even regularly. You may be a survivor yourself; maybe it happened at work or maybe you were abused in our own home (see below: Massachusetts Domestic Violence Bill).
Our local Union is seeing an increase in violence in Residential Programs. Workers have been attacked by the clients that they serve, in part, because of reduced staffing ratios. Often these clients are deeply troubled minors with mental illness who have experienced personal trauma and violence themselves. Maybe the client that hit, punched, kicked, bit, or spat at you is still in the Residential program and the courts, hospitals, and jails don’t think they belong there either. If DMH (Department of Mental Health), DCF (Department of Children and Families) and EEC (Early Education and Care) do not increase staffing ratios, I am fearful we will only see more violence in Residential Programs.
Many of us in UAW 2322 want to join forces and be a part of reducing the risk of violence in the workplace. We want to get our message to the agencies that recently reduced the staff/client ratios. We need to tell our employers and the state that workers in Residential Programs are not safe at work with the current reduced ratios. Workers are getting attacked and injured too frequently. Funding needs to be restored in the State budgets for increased safety.
We need to tell our stories and bring them directly to the attention of EEC and DMH. We need to collectively prepare, get on the agenda, and present the facts. I want survivors of violence to know that there is help and support available beside workers compensation benefits and access to sick time. Workers cannot wait this out and hope that it will get better without getting personally involved and identifying solutions. The UAW wants to support this process.
Staffing ratios that were recently reduced are directly impacting the safety of all: workers, clients, and communities. What is it going to take to get the funding needed to safely care for troubled youth in our communities? I do not want to see a worker killed, but I fear that this may happen if the State doesn’t address the issue of safe staffing; it is that serious.
Many union members have their own personal story of a violent attack or incident at work. You may have already had an opportunity to share your story during an internal investigation or at the doctor’s office after the injury. I want to encourage you to take it a step further and get the message (your story) to the licensors (DMH-EEC). We should not wait until someone is seriously injured or worse for staffing ratios to be restored and adequately funded.
Some stories of violence are hidden and have not yet been told; maybe because it didn’t happen at work, but behind closed doors, in your own home. Maybe a co-worker or you are experiencing domestic violence and have not yet told anyone, or maybe you have shared your story and have asked for protection from the courts. Maybe you called the YWCA domestic violence hotline and spoke to a UAW member, or maybe a court advocate has helped you or your friend get protection. Workers at the YWCA answer hot line calls for emergency help, and assist women and families in shelters seeking safety from their abusers. UAW-YWCA workers support victims in court seeking legal protections in the effort to be safe and to try to move away from violence.
Maybe you went to the HR department at your job and asked about the newly passed Domestic Violence Bill in MA. This bill is job protection for workers who are victims (or have family members who are victims) of domestic violence. This bill allows workers to get the help they need when they need it without worrying about losing their job while seeking help.
It may be that you are a survivor of domestic violence or you were injured at work by the very clients that you are paid to serve and protect. Several UAW- YWCA members told deeply moving accounts (their stories) at the bargaining table which helped personalize the experience; these stories moved the management committee. I believe the power of telling our personal stories helps illustrate the importance of improving wages and working conditions. Sharing our stories make a difference. Join us in trying to reduce violence at work, and know that help is out there. We all deserve a community, job, and home free of violence and abuse.