Having a union made all the difference
“If I didn’t have a union, I wouldn’t have a job!”
That’s what PEF Region 6 member Maurice Pauline told his fellow delegates when he stepped to the microphone October 21 at the 2015 PEF convention in Syracuse.
Pauline wanted them and everyone to know that his career could have ended if the union had not stood by him through a nightmarish experience that made him want to just give up and quit.
“If it wasn’t for my PEF field rep Ed Ray, who told me, ‘Don’t quit! We’ll fight this to the gates of Hell if we have to,’ I would be out of a job and my career would be over,” Pauline told them.
In an interview after the convention, Pauline, an addictions counselor 1 at a state addictions treatment center in the Mohawk Valley, explained that it all started one day when he was making his rounds to gather clients for a group therapy session. One of the clients was dozing and did not like being wakened and asked to go and join the group. He became belligerent and would not leave Pauline alone.
“I had never seen him before. I didn’t even know who this guy was. Maybe he was going through (drug or alcohol) withdrawal and that’s why he acted that way. He kept putting his hands in my face, and swearing and yelling at me. He wouldn’t leave me alone. Finally, I shouted back at him,” Pauline said.
The incident was reported to the state Justice Center, and one day Pauline was called on to answer an allegation that he had “psychologically abused” the client.
“The thing about the Justice Center is you don’t even know what you’re alleged to have done until you go before them. So you don’t have any chance to prepare for it,” Pauline said. “They are supposed to act on allegations within 60 days, but they take way longer. It can be many more months later.”
Fortunately, Pauline reached out to PEF for help.
“I got worn down and wanted to give up,” Pauline said, “but Ed Ray was with there all the way with me.”
“The allegation was unfounded and we had video from the security camera to prove it,” Ray said. “The Justice Center agreed to drop it, because it was clearly unsupported.”
Nevertheless, Pauline’s employer, the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services, tried to discipline him over the incident. Again, Ray stepped in and showed the agency the evidence that the allegation was unsupported.
Pauline agreed to take additional training in how to deal with clients in such difficult situations, and he has done that.
That storm has passed and Pauline is profoundly grateful to his union, but he no longer feels secure in his job.
“There is no security for us as clinicians, because anyone may say anything about us and that’s just not fair. People have lost their jobs,” Pauline said. “No one should have that kind of power.”
He suggested that staff at the Justice Center and at the affected agencies all need to be better trained in just what should and should not be reported.
“Everybody needs more training. God forbid what will happen if we don’t get it,” he said.
“We talked about this at a convention workshop on health and safety issues. (PEF Region 7 Coordinator) Ed Snow from the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities said he is working on the problem,” Pauline said.
Snow said he and PEF President Wayne Spence and other PEF leaders have been meeting with representatives of other labor unions such as the Civil Service Employees Association and District Council 37 in New York City to discuss their common issues and look for the most effective ways to improve the situation, whether through legislation, labor-management or other means.
Snow said the situation is very dangerous for professional state employees because not only can they lose their jobs, the charges can affect their professional license or certification and it can result in them being permanently barred from ever working for any employer that receives Medicaid funding or reimbursement. And that is a career-ending blow.
“It is very important that we have a union to stand up for us,” Pauline said.