Medical staff at jail votes to unionize

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Shortly after voting to unionize, members of the Allegheny County Jail medical staff were feeling "pretty jubilant" Friday afternoon, said Randa Ruge, an organizer with the United Steelworkers.

"The next step is getting to the bargaining table and getting Corizon to bargain in good faith and get some changes made in the health system at the jail," said Ms. Ruge, naming staffing issues and health and safety as areas the union planned to address.

The employees, who include physician's assistants, nurse practitioners, registered nurses and psychiatric nurses, voted unanimously that they wanted to be in the same bargaining unit together.

They voted, 64-7, to be represented by the United Steelworkers. One vote in favor of unionization was challenged, that of Sister Barbara Finch, a nurse who was fired earlier this month.

The United Steelworkers have said that she was fired because she was spearheading union organizing. Corizon Health Inc., the firm that runs the jail health system, has said she was let go because her security clearances were revoked.

Corizon, a national healthcare provider based in Tennessee, took over management of the jail's health services in September. Allegheny County signed a contract with Corizon last summer for $11.5 million a year.

Corizon, which in the first few months of its contract seemed to have problems getting medication to inmates on time, earlier this week received a letter from Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, who said she had "grave and serious concerns" about health care and working conditions at the jail.

Ms. Ruge has said that, in the months after Corizon took over, jail employees approached the United Steelworkers union about unionizing, saying they had staffing issues and other concerns.

Corizon, in a statement emailed by a spokeswoman to reporters earlier this week, said "when the union petition first came to light, we told our employees that it was their choice and we would honor their decision."

"We have positive relationships with our employees at our union and non-union facilities," Corizon spokeswoman Susan Morgenstern said in her emailed statement, which she referred to when asked for a comment Friday. "Our position will always be to respect the employees' choice."

Ms. Ruge said the Steelworkers plan to send Corizon a letter Monday notifying the company that they are prepared to bargain, a process that she said is hopeful will yield a contract within the next four months.

Kaitlynn riely: or 412-263-1707 First Published February 14, 2014 4:52 PM

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