Rep. Abby Finkenauer took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives just before the entire Iowa Democratic delegation voted with a bipartisan majority to pass workplace safety legislation last week.
Iowa’s Steve King voted against the “Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act,” which passed the House 251-158.
Finkenauer told a story about Tina Suckow, a worker at the Independence Mental Health Institute, who was attacked by a patient while on the job.
Suckow is a member of AFSCME and is a constituent in Finkenauer’s 1st Congressional District. She has dedicated 15 years of her life to caring for people living with mental health conditions.
Suckow’s career came to a halt when she responded to a distress call from a fellow employee who was dealing with an erratic patient at the mental health institute. For roughly 45 minutes, Suckow and a dozen colleagues tried to calm the patient who had threatened to hurt anyone who came near him.
“When nothing worked to calm him, a supervisor grabbed a padded shield,” Finkenauer said. “But, see, nobody knew that the facility even had this equipment and they weren’t trained to use it.”
This bill will require places, like the State of Iowa, to stop failing their employees by requiring workplace protections and is a first step in protecting Iowans on the front lines. #IA01https://t.co/ZRhyGp5N65https://t.co/CmVCR3AmVu
— Abby Finkenauer (@RepFinkenauer) November 22, 2019
“As her coworker approached with the shield, Tina became trapped between it and the patient,” Finkenauer said. “He hit Tina in the head so many times she lost consciousness. After dedicating her career and her life to caring for others, Tina was now the one in need. Since then, she has been in and out of surgeries and the emotional damage remains. That day was the worst day of Tina’s life.”
If signed into law, the bill Finkenauer advocated for will require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration create a workplace violence prevention standard to force employers within health care and social service industries to make a plan to protect their employees from violence.
“As a victim of workplace violence, it means a lot to me to know that my own member of Congress, Congresswoman Finkenauer, as well as Congresswoman Axne and Congressman Loebsack, are working to prevent other workers from going through what I have,” Suckow said in a statement. “I ended up losing my job due to the extent of my injuries. No one should have to endure violence just for doing their job. I truly hope that this bill becomes law.”
Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Council 61, praised Iowa’s three representatives for standing up for workplace safety issues.
“Iowa has a serious problem with protecting its health care and social service workers against violence in the workplace,” Homan said, in a statement. “We have seen the consequences of the lack of workplace protections for these workers through the many injuries, surgeries, and even job losses stemming from this rampant danger.”
Homan asked Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley to support the bill when it gets to the Senate.
— AFSCME Council 61 (@afscme_c61) November 21, 2019
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, health care and social service workers make up 68% of all workplace violence injuries. They are almost five times more likely to experience violence on the job than police officers or prison guards, according to the Bureau.
If the bill is signed into law, it would mandate OSHA create an interim final standard requiring health care and social service providers to create a workplace violence prevention plan within one year and issue a finalized standard within 42 months.
The plan will identify risks, specify solutions and require training within the social service and health care fields and will protect public workers in 24 states that are not currently covered by OSHA standards.
“Our health care and social services workers deserve to work in places where they aren’t facing violence or attacks,” said Congressman Axne, in a statement. “I have heard from many nurses in Iowa who shared stories about being afraid for their personal safety when all they were trying to do was provide life-saving care. I’m proud to help lead and support updating protections for our nurses, doctors, social workers and anyone in the health field.”
Attack Highlights Weak Worker Laws
In her speech on the House floor, Finkenauer said she served in the Iowa House in 2017 when the state voted to butcher basic protections and rights for public employees.
Lawmakers revised Chapter 20 of the Iowa Code to largely eliminate the collective bargaining power of teachers, correctional officers, bus drivers and other public employees like Suckow. The revision also added new requirements mandating public unions host expensive re-certification elections.
“Iowa’s working families are continuing to pay the price for those politically motivated attacks,” Finkenauer said. “Nearly 1,000 jobs in our state have actually been eliminated since 2000. These staffing shortages because of this, and the failure to train employees on vital safety measures, have put lives like Tina’s on the line.”
Since the day Suckow was attacked, Finkenauer said several other employees were assaulted at the facility in Independence.
Homan said at the time that “there is a safety crisis taking place” for the employees at the Independence MHI, and said the assaults point to the incompetence of managers at the facility.
“It is unconscionable,” Finkenauer said of the attacks. “This is not how you treat people.”
By Paige Godden