- The long Labor Day weekend is a time for rest and relaxation for most
of us, but for the 1,800 members of a state labor organization, it's a
time to figure out their next move. Local 793 of the Washington Federation of State Employees staged its second rally Thursday, outside the gates of the Western State Hospital in Lakewood.
Tim Welch, director of public affairs of the Washington State Federation of State Employees,
was one of those protesting proposed staff cutbacks and the state's
decision to turn over operation of part of the hospital to a private
contractor. He says neither move is good for patients or those caring
"Management's proposal to layoff 65 staff, which is a big chunk of the
recreation staff out here, is going to be a recipe for folks not
getting the treatment. It will also result in increasing assaults on
staff and on other patients."
Union negotiators met with hospital administrators for several hours
Thursday. Minnesota-based Optum Health recently won a
$50-million-a-year contract to administer mental health services at the
hospital, and a company spokesman has said they may be able to hire
some laid-off workers.
Welch says the proposed cuts impact not only the workers who risk losing their jobs, but also patient and staff safety.
"We're not looking at a walk-off or anything like that; our patients
are too valuable to care for. But, there are many other things we can
do to get the message across to management that this does not make any
The state already has closed two wards at the Western State Hospital
due to budget troubles. Welch says he is hopeful that, when Gov.
Gregoire sees the impact of the cuts, she may take action during the
January session. He says, with the economy showing signs of recovery,
it may be time to reverse the cuts.