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LOCAL News :: Civil & Human Rights : Labor & Class

A local woman fights for the right to organize (join her)

Just in time for Mother’s Day, the management of Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg has retaliated against Debra Moore, an outspoken registered nurse and mother of four, by discharging her, making hers into a fight for free speech, the right to organize, and the dignity of workers and patients in Virginia. Advocates of free speech, women’s rights, and the right to organize are mobilizing to defend her and are calling for public support.
Leaders and members of the Virginia Public Service Workers Union's Eastern State Hospital chapter.
An experienced nurse with a good employment record, Moore is also president of Eastern State Hospital’s chapter of the Virginia Public Service Workers' Union. Individuals close the case regard her dismissal as exemplary of a systematic disregard for workers and patients at the Hospital and in state institutions across Virginia.

"I was working 48-56 hours a week. I had 400 back hours of sick leave, unused. I was nominated for the Clinical Award of Excellence. But they terminated me," Moore said in a telephone interview.

"In the time I was head of the Eastern State chapter of the Union we went from 75 to over 200 members," Moore said.

“I think it is clear they targeted her,? another employee said by email, “and we need people from around the state to speak up now.?

The hospital is 73 Registered Nurses short of recommended staffing levels, say union officials, and Moore has been publicly critical of this chronic and deep staffing shortage. Moore says the situation endangers both patients and workers.

"We've had staff assaulted by seriously dangerous patients because of situations that could have been avoided with proper staffing. It's bad for the patients and nurses."

Despite the fact that they fired her, Moore says she has learned from employees that the hospital has since adopted some of her core proposals for reorganizing staffing, effective as of May 1, 2006.

By all accounts--even internal management emails and records--Moore was a good and effective employee. Therefore the story of her termination is all the more disturbing.

Exercising her rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, Moore "went out for surgery on a tumor in my leg and came back having been sworn in as President of the Eastern State chapter of the Union."

"We did a rally against privatization of the hospital," she says, adding that's when the trouble began.

She was informed that her work schedule was being changed. For years, it had been arranged in coordination with her court-ordered custody agreement with her ex-husband for her two school-aged children.

But management began creating schedules for Moore that conflicted with that agreement, forcing a choice between coming to work or leaving her kids home alone during shifts as long as sixteen hours.

Amazingly, even though she continued to work 48-56 hour shifts that her manager specifically called her to fill, she was ultimately cited for failing to meet her schedule because she did not fill even more shifts, according to Moore. And for that, Moore says she was terminated.

"I'm gonna get re-instated," Moore says in a friendly, energetic, and confident voice. But that is not a certainty and she is representing herself in her legal and bureaucratic fight for re-instatement. "There is a rally at the entrance to the hospital May 13, but people are scared," she says adding that they will have supporters from around Virginia and as far away as Pennsylvania.

Moore is defiant. "There are eight other people that have been terminated unfairly since me," she says, implying she'll be looking into those cases when she is re-instated.

Moore has a strong union spirit that comes through immediately in conversation. She describes how "we nurses" have to stop fighting against each other, not be afraid, and use the union to change the culture at Eastern State Hospital.

"It's bad," she says. "But when I found the union, I found..." she says, halting, before describing the politcal power and comraderie and international perspective the union has. "It's just so pro-active."

Women's rights, civil rights, labor and community groups across Virginia are mounting a campaign to shine some daylight on this nasty bit of political retaliation. Virginians need first rate health care and for that to be possible experienced workers on the job must be allowed free speech without fear of retribution.

An email being circulated by organizers calls for “immediate assistance? and asks people to call three state officials to voice concern and demand Debra Moore’s reinstatement. The names and contact information, as given in the circulating email, are below.

Please join this effort. The union asks that you ask these men to stand up for this mother on Mother's Day:

1- John Favret, director of Eastern State Hospital, at 757.253.5241 or john.favret (at) esh.dmhmrsas.virginia.gov

2 - Governor Tim Kaine tkaine (at) governor.virginia.gov

3 - James Reinhard, M.D., Commissioner, Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services, 804.786.3921 or james.reinhard (at) co.dmhmrsas.virginia.gov.

For more information contact UE Local 160 at 888-868-6466 or www.vaue160.org
Supporters of the Union, including the author (with the flag).
The Virginia Public Service Workers Union is affiliated with the United Electrical Workers (UE) as Local 160.

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