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PEF calls on NYS to protect employees from violent attacks

PEF calls on NYS to protect employees from violent attacks

ALBANY, NY (11/20/2019) (readMedia)– (ALBANY) – The New York State Public Employees Federation (PEF) is protesting the many violent workplace assaults its members are experiencing. The union, which represents 52,000 professional, scientific and technical employees of the state, is pressing the state to fulfill its responsibility to keep its employees safe on the job.

“I am alarmed, angry and very frustrated by the news I have been receiving day after day in the last few weeks,” said PEF President Wayne Spence. “One after another of our members is being assaulted on their jobs and it is just not acceptable. The state cannot expect to hold on to its employees when it fails to keep them safe on the job. This must stop!”

What began in late October with news of a PEF-represented nurse resigning because she felt “unsafe” at her job in a state facility, was soon followed by reports from all over the state of PEF members being attacked at work over a period of about six weeks.

“I was notified that a nurse practitioner in the lower Hudson Valley was slashed by a patient with a weapon made from contraband,” Spence said. “Then I heard of nurses in the Elmira area who were attacked by clients throwing their bodily fluid on them. Then we began to hear of attacks on six parole officers, including an officer in the Buffalo area and five more on Long Island who were injured on the job in recent weeks. There have been multiple state prisons locked down because of heightened danger. Earlier this year, a member was brutally attacked and seriously injured walking to her car in a state parking lot right across the street from the office building where she works in downtown Albany.

“This cannot stand. We will not and must not accept this as ‘business as usual.’ No one benefits from this! The state agencies where this happens are already critically understaffed, and these injuries and attacks only put scarce and valuable staff out on workers’ comp or sick leave. So, it costs the taxpayers money and it impairs services to New Yorkers. But, most of all, PEF members are injured, terrorized and traumatized,” Spence said.

“We will not tolerate this!”

To get an idea of how horrific and traumatic these incidents are for the PEF members experiencing them, consider what happened to a psychiatric nurse practitioner at a state facility in the Hudson Valley.

The nurse practitioner, who has worked for the state in this role since 2013, was in his office on a late October morning when he heard a knock on his office door. He asked who it was and was told that it was a patient, who had just come on the ward the previous day. The nurse practitioner did not allow the patient to come into his office, but later walked down the hall to the patient’s room where the patient tried to coax him to enter. The nurse practitioner did not enter the room, but stood just outside in the hall speaking to the patient who abruptly began slashing the nurse with a weapon the patient had constructed from a razor blade and nails (contraband) bound together with cloth. The nurse practitioner tried to run to the nurses’ station for help, but the patient chased him until other staff members were able to finally restrain the patient and end the attack.

The nurse practitioner suffered a long narrow gash from the corner of his eye, across his temple and his ear from the first slash. He also had cuts on the other side of his face and the back of his neck, among others.

The nurse practitioner said he now realizes that the attack was premeditated. “The patient must have smuggled that razor and nails into the center. He should have been searched when he arrived in Triage, but he still had them with him.” Why this patient chose to attack this nurse practitioner, whom he barely knew, is unknown.

“Thank, God, I didn’t let him into my office when he knocked or I would probably be dead,” the nurse practitioner said. “He was trying to get me where there was no one else around. And I was saved again, when I didn’t let him get me alone in his room. He would have seriously damaged me if he got me alone!”

The shock of this totally unexpected attack has left a wound on this nurse practitioner’s psyche even more painful and deep than the cuts to his skin. “One time is more than enough!” the nurse practitioner said.

Spence and PEF Region 10 Coordinator Darlene Williams, who is both the PEF co-chair of the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee and the chair of PEF’s PS&T Contract Negotiations Team, said these attacks on members give those negotiations with the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations a deeper dimension of seriousness and urgency.

“We shouldn’t have to come to the bargaining table braced for word that could come at any minute of another attack. Members are just quitting their jobs, rather than risk serious injury or even being killed for trying to give New Yorkers the highest quality public services they can,” Spence said. “The state is the employer and it has the responsibility to provide a safe workplace for every employee.”

“Our members have invested long years and a big share of their income in obtaining the college degrees and specialized training and experience required to be in these state Professional, Scientific and Technical unit positions,” Williams said. “It’s horrifying to think that any member could lose their life doing their job while we are still butting heads with state negotiators over a contract. That possibility is horrifying, but we just can’t duck it. The evidence of this danger and risk is staring us in the face.”

For more information, contact PEF Director of Communications Jane Briggs at 518-785-1900.