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Hundreds gathered in cities across the state on Saturday, April 18 to honor the people who keep our communities safe, care for the elderly and disabled, teach and protect our children, maintain our roads, and provide other essential services. “Public Service Matters” events celebrated the contributions of our friends, neighbors, family members, and customers who are state employees, and called on the Legislature to fund their negotiated contracts to make necessary safety improvements and help with recruitment and retention in our state facilities, including Western and Eastern State Hospitals and other DSHS/DOH facilities.

State employees — from corrections officers to health inspectors, from nurses at public hospitals to faculty at community colleges — described their work and canvassed local businesses and community members at events in Centralia, Federal Way, Medical Lake, Monroe, Shelton, Steilacoom and Yelm.

“I’m disappointed to see the state Senate won’t prioritize care and fund our contract in the budget. With the Senate’s plan to reject funding for state employees we are sending a message to our community that we don’t value quality jobs or the work it takes to care for our neighbors. I’ve worked at Eastern State Hospital for 16 years and I do this work because it’s meaningful to care for senior patients who are living with mental illness, dementia, and gero psychiatric needs. Their needs are intensive, sometimes requiring 4-5 staff at a time to ensure both patient and staff safety. The level of these needs easily overwhelm local nursing home facilities. But by rejecting the funding for frontline staff who provide this care, we make it acceptable to just warehouse patients with medication and a bed. We need to ensure we can keep the staff we have and make improvements so every patient has access to the full care they need – that means group activities and therapy, exercise and rehabilitation,” said Melissa Staples, RN at Eastern State Hospital.

“My co-workers and I take a lot of pride in our work, protecting our communities from the state’s most violent felons,” said Joschue Reyes, a Classification Counselor at Clallam Bay Corrections Center and Teamsters Local 117 member who attended Saturday’s Public Service Matters event in Shelton. “The public doesn’t see what we do on a daily basis, so being able to connect with people today and earning their support for our first raises in seven years is very gratifying.”

“An investment in state employees is an investment in the community,” Washington Federation of State Employees/AFSCME’s Pam Carl told the crowd of about 50 near the Centralia Library.

Attendees then fanned out across the business district to encourage small business owners and the public to sign petition cards to their senator. Members from SEIU Healthcare 1199NW, WFSE, the Washington Public Employees Association/UFCW, and Professional and Technical Employees Local 17 participated in the event.

Thornton Alberg, a workers’ compensation unit supervisor for the Department of Labor and Industries, attended the Steilacoom event: “My colleagues and I work to keep people safe on the job, and if they get injured at work, we work to make sure their families get the financial resources they need. We need the community’s support so we can keep doing our job of keeping the public healthy and safe. That support includes the negotiated pay raises that will help attract and keep good public employees — and boost our local economies.”

Becky Turnbull, a paraprofessional library worker at Bellevue College: “The college has changed over the years, but my dedication to helping others just continues to grow. It would be gratifying to finally have a cost-of-living adjustment after so many years without. It’s not just for me and my colleagues, either. Our daughter is in school at one of Washington’s state universities; I’d like the public employees at her university to have a 3% COLA and everything else that was bargained into their contracts in good faith.”

In Olympia, a minority of state senators is making the wrong choice by blocking funding for state employees. The governor, the House of Representatives, and a clear bipartisan majority of senators (29 out of 49) all support fully funding state employee contracts and giving state employees their first general wage increase in seven years. But a minority of senators is blocking it. Even worse, they have proposed cutting 20,000 state employees’ spouses off of their health coverage.

It’s time for the state to honor our expertise and the agreements we’ve negotiated to both improve care and ensure we have the workforce we need.  That means the right staff for every patient and a plan to make sure we have a sustainable workforce for the decades ahead.

SEIU Healthcare 1199NW members will continue to speak out to protect funding for our state employee contracts and the new revenue it will take to provide safe, quality care in our state institutions and recruit and retain experienced staff.

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