USW: Jail nun/nurse was fired for union organizing

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A nun who worked for five years as a registered nurse at the Allegheny County Jail infirmary was fired last week for spearheading unionization efforts, an organizer for the United Steelworkers union said Monday.

Sister Barbara Finch, a Sister of St. Joseph of Baden, had her security clearances revoked and was dismissed from her job Thursday after she expressed concerns about staffing, safety issues and patient care during meetings at the jail, said Randa Ruge, the union organizer.

"It became clear that she was one of the leading activists in the organizing drive," Ms. Ruge said, referring to ongoing unionization efforts at the jail.

Ms. Ruge described Sister Barbara as a "sacrificial lamb" and said that the union is "concerned that taxpayer dollars are being used for union-busting."

The Steelworkers union on Friday filed an unfair labor practice charge against Corizon Health Inc., the Tennessee-based firm that manages county jail health services. The charge, sent to the National Labor Relation Board, is that Corizon dismissed her in retaliation for participating in union activities.

"This is a clear case of intimidation and union-busting at its worst," United Steelworkers International president Leo W. Gerard said in a statement. "Sister Barbara has been an outspoken advocate of change for these courageous workers and their patients, and this kind of illegal and unjust action, unfortunately, is par for the course with Corizon."

"It is our policy not to discuss personnel issues in the news media. I can confirm that we abide by all labor laws; if there is a question to address with the NLRB, we will do so," said Susan Morgenstern, a Corizon spokeswoman.

An Allegheny County spokeswoman also declined comment.

Union members, jail employees and other union advocates held a protest Downtown Monday, bringing attention to Sister Barbara's complaint and making known their support for the right of workers to unionize.

Corizon took over management of Allegheny County Jail health services in September, after signing a contract with Allegheny County last summer for $11.4 million a year.

Steelworkers representatives have said that, since Corizon took over, they've received reports of bad working conditions. In January, the union filed a labor petition to unionize about 110 members of the Allegheny County Jail medical staff. The National Labor Relations Board has scheduled an election Feb. 14.


Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707.

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