West Virgina workers plan rally for union rights

CHARLESTON, W., Virginia Sun Feb 20, 2011 1:54pm EST

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CHARLESTON, W., Virginia (Reuters) - Public sector workers in West Virginia, in support of public employee protests in Wisconsin, will rally to demand better pay and improved working conditions, a union spokesman said on Sunday.

Union members will demonstrate on Monday in the state capital and wear red bandannas to support Wisconsin workers who oppose Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to cut union collective bargaining power, Gordon Simmons, a spokesman for West Virginia Public Workers Union, UE Local 170, said in a statement.

In the 1920s, organizers for the United Mine Workers of America wore red bandannas when trying to unionize mine workers in West Virginia. The American term "redneck" comes from that effort and their clash with law enforcement and mine company security forces.

West Virginia's public workers are seeking an increase in pay, improved benefits and safer working conditions, Simmons said. They also want seniority rights, the state Department of Health and Human Resources to implement caseload standards, and repeal of involuntary employee transfers,

In 2005, then Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, instituted a pay freeze for public workers that remains in effect.

The union is asking for a 3 percent cost of living adjustment and $1,500 across the board for employees.

Acting Gov. Earl Tomblin has proposed a one-time pay boost for state employees of at least $500 or a 2 percent increase of their current pay.

Public employees also are seeking state funding for the West Virginia Occupational and Safety Act, which was passed in 1987 creating rules and standards for workplace safety, training programs and inspection teams.

The law has been on the books for 24 years and never been funded by any governor or the legislature.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Peter Bohan)

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