Workers said they are picketing until they get a response from management.
By VIRGINIA ROSS
NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Mike Vitale said he's tired of the retaliation that he says workers face at the New Castle Youth Development Center when they file a complaint or grievance.
On Monday, Vitale and his colleagues, all members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2353, set up an informational picket line outside at the Shenango Township facility on Frew Mill Road run by the state. The center houses juvenile offenders from throughout the state.
Vitale, union president, said picketing will continue from 6 a.m. to midnight daily until workers receive a response from management.
"We're worried about the safety of our workers," he said. "There are issues here that need to be addressed and resolved."
Vitale said the move, in part, is a response to the recent termination of one of his colleagues, Michael Richardson, a youth development aide who reportedly was fired last week after being accused of swearing at one of the center's residents.
Richardson's termination came just a few days shy of completing his six-month probationary period, and soon after he filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission saying that working conditions at the center are unsafe, Vitale said.
Vitale, an aide who has worked at the facility for 18 years, said about a year ago another colleague was fired after filing a grievance against the company, but later that employee won his job back.
"We don't want these retaliations to continue happening to any of us," he said.
And there are numerous safety issues, he added. For example, he said that two to three times a shift, staff typically has to recharge the batteries in the two radios used to signal each other in an emergency. He said top management have continued promoting and providing pay raises for themselves while scrimping on other budget items -- like buying new batteries.
Vitale said it might not seem like a big deal, but it can become one when an aide is unable to contact a colleague during an emergency because of dead batteries in a radio.
He said management has refused to hold residents accountable for the harm they cause staff by hitting, punching, spitting on and kicking the workers. He said management has told staff not to report these situations.
The facility houses about 144 male residents ages 12 to 21.
Furthermore, Vitale said, management continually agrees to improve conditions, but later reneges on those promises.
"Changes are needed," he said. "We just want to let the public know what's going on."
Because the picketing is informational in nature, and not the result of a strike due to contract or salary negotiations, employees have continued working their regular shifts. Local 2353 represents some 250 youth development aides. Vitale said several counselors have also joined the picketing line.
Meanwhile, representatives of the facility and the Pennsylvania Welfare Department could not be reached for comment.