USW petitions to unionize medical staff at Allegheny County Jail

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The United Steelworkers union filed a labor petition Thursday to unionize the medical staff working at the Allegheny County Jail, saying they've received reports of intolerable working conditions.

In the National Labor Relations Board filing, Steelworkers representative Randa Ruge wrote that the union plans to negotiate on behalf of 84 jail workers employed by Corizon Health Inc., a Tennessee-based firm that has already run into trouble delivering medicine to jail inmates. Fed-up workers approached her, she said -- not the other way around.

"Our folks are in danger of losing their licenses to practice by some of the things the company has them doing," Ms. Ruge said. "It's obvious there's some really bad stuff going on."

The unionizing workers must now wait for the board to give them an election date.

Allegheny County signed a contract with Corizon last summer for $11.4 million a year, with a 4.25 percent annual increase possible in later years. The new contract, which replaced a former deal with nonprofit Allegheny Correctional Health Service, has been touted as saving the county $1 million a year.

But the for-profit health care company quickly ran into trouble at the jail, with complaints surfacing of patients not receiving medication on time. Ms. Ruge said the jail once ran out of insulin for more than a week, and that Corizon supervisors have countermanded doctors' orders.

County spokeswoman Amie Downs declined comment. Representatives from Corizon could not be reached for comment.

Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.

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