The following is a story originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of the OCSEA magazine. See the full publication at OCSEA.org/PEQ.
Union Justice! Finding support through union advocacy
The past few years have been a nightmare for Renee Washington, OCSEA union member and Dept. of Developmental Disabilities employee. “And if it weren’t for my union, for OCSEA, I don’t know where I’d be today,” said Renee.
Her ordeal began in 2017 when, while a Therapeutic Program Worker at the Columbus Developmental Center, she and two co-workers were accused of abusing a client for which they cared and were charged criminally.
“I couldn’t believe what was happening. Only God and I knew the truth, and I was willing to fight for my good name through it all,” said Renee, who was 23 years old at the time.
Finally, after a year and half, Renee’s day in court came. Jobless, hopeless, she prayed for the best and for the truth to come out. And it did! On the stand, the client recanted their story. It became clear to everyone around her what she already knew: she was not guilty. The judge agreed and ruled for her acquittal.
“This took a huge toll on my life. I pretty much lost my house. It took a toll on me physically,” said Renee. “Plus, it impacted my name. I needed a job in the worst way, but any job offers were taken off the table as soon as they discovered my situation.”
While the burden of her case was behind her, her future was still uncertain. She wanted to return to public service but she knew it was going to be difficult. “That’s when my union reps stepped in. I didn’t really know what rights I had. They explained the grievance process and how they were there to fight for my contractual right to return to work,” said Renee.
“We went to the agency and talked settlements and how to get her and her co-workers back to work,” said OCSEA Staff Representative Chris Minney. “Of course, the state just wanted to be rid of them, to settle with cash, wipe their hands of them and be done. But we were confident that we had a winning argument given the false accusation and court’s ruling,” said Chris.
Despite push back and a lot of games from the state, the union moved forward. “We knew Renee and the others accused deserved justice,” said Chris.
Thanks to her union, who argued on her behalf, Renee won her settlement, including back pay and missed overtime for the 20-month ordeal. And, she was able to return to work.
Renee returned to the Columbus DODD center in January 2020. Unfortunately, because of a Medicaid rule, she is unable to work directly with clients. So she now finds herself working in the facility’s kitchen as a cook.
“It’s been a humbling, and at times humiliating experience. There are clients I worked with in the past that I can’t even speak to. That’s hard to reconcile, but I have to persevere,” said Renee.
Renee said, despite it all, she is grateful for her union and those who helped her through the long journey. “My union advisors were nothing but kind, helpful and understanding,” said Renee.While this experience may have jaded others, Renee calls it a learning moment.
“My union has made an activist out of me. I don’t know how I’ll share my gift of my experience in the future, but I do know that I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I have by themselves,” said Renee. “Our union contract is our protection against injustice!”