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Allegheny County jail medical staff to hold union vote

| Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, 11:30 p.m.

Medical personnel at the Allegheny County Jail will vote on Feb. 14 on whether to join the United Steelworkers, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

It appears the lead organizer among the employees of Corizon Correctional Healthcare will not be among those who vote, however.

Barbara Finch, a five-year employee of the medical unit in the Uptown jail, said on Sunday that Corizon canceled her certification to work there last week. She said she identified herself as the lead organizer in one of a series of meetings Corizon called to talk to employees about the organizing effort. She and a USW representative working with the employees interpret the move as a firing.

“I was very transparent for change. That came to the fore for them because they didn't know for certain that I was the chief organizer,” said Finch, who said she is a sick-call assessment nurse in the jail and a Catholic nun.

At Thursday's meeting, Finch said, she spoke about safety concerns in the jail, mainly for employees who come into contact with inmates.

When asked for comment, Corizon spokeswoman Susan Morganstern said: “Across the United States, Corizon supports all staff, union and nonunion, as they work together daily to deliver quality care to all our patients.”

The USW petitioned Jan. 9 to organize 84 employees at the jail who work for a unit of Corizon Health Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn. It provides health services at more than 537 correctional facilities for 381,000 inmates in 28 states. It won an $11.4 million contract from Allegheny County and began offering medical services in the jail last summer.

USW staff representative Randa Ruge said Corizon informed the union that about 110 workers are eligible to vote. “They believe (Finch) will be ineligible to vote, and they expect that to have a chilling effect on the bargaining unit,” Ruge said.

On Monday, the union plans to hold a news conference to discuss efforts to organize workers at UPMC and Corizon, and will hold rallies at U.S. Steel Tower, Downtown, where UPMC is headquartered, and at the jail, Ruge said.

The vote in two weeks will be in the jail during two periods, 5-7 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. Corizon and the USW can have one observer at each session, who will help an NLRB agent count ballots, according to a letter from Robert Chester, Pittsburgh regional director of the NLRB.

John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or joravecz@tribweb.com.

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