Former nurses at The Meadows Psychiatric Center in Centre Hall fired after organizing to unionize
Updated March 30, 5:17 p.m. to include additional comments from The Meadows.
Two former nurses at The Meadows Psychiatric Center in Centre Hall said they were fired after organizing their fellow employees to unionize, an action they say is the last hope to address safety concerns at Centre County’s largest psychiatric hospital.
Tami Kraynak and Dawn Taylor were both RN supervisors before The Meadows fired them on March 4 and are still pushing for unionization. A termination letter they showed WPSU said one reason was their unionizing efforts.
“As a member of the nursing administration supervisory team, you have engaged in significant and sustained efforts to organize staff employees for a union, which is in direct conflict with the conduct expected from employees who are supervisors and are in a leadership position at The Meadows Psychiatric Center,” the letter said.
“As much as it was expected, I was taken aback,” said Kraynak, who worked at Meadows for nine years. She said her work was not administrative in nature. As a lead nurse, she provided direct patient care, gave medications and helped orient new patients as they arrived.
“Our patients are the reason we come back every single day,” Kraynak said. “It's not easy work.”
The two nurses said the safety of staff and patients was becoming a major issue. They said patients were not always properly supervised, staffing was inadequate to meet the needs of patients, and management has not responded to repeated requests to make the facility safer.
Taylor, who spent about five years working at Meadows, said, rather than addressing existing issues, management pushed to open up a new unit to admit more patients.
“And we just feel that they were putting profit over patient and over our struggles,” she said.
It also felt unsafe at times, Taylor said.
“When you see your staff getting hurt or you see patients cowering in the corner, because they're afraid of what's going on, it became almost like a war zone,” she said. “We're not helping these patients.”
Another coworker was also fired. The colleague was a mental health technician who was “getting out the correct information” about the union petition among technicians at The Meadows, according to Taylor.
“She was definitely a star employee, you know, always had great reviews,” Kraynak said. “I believe she had her evaluation prior to that, and everything was great. So yes, it was clearly targeted.”
Kraynak and Taylor gathered signatures from more than 70% of their colleagues and filed a union petition at the end of February with help from Service Employees International Union. Behind the petition were nurses, therapists, teachers, workers in admission and assessment, maintenance workers and kitchen staff, Kraynak said.
“We could have walked away and said, ‘All right, we tried.’ I mean, we can go get nursing jobs anywhere,” Taylor said. “We're still here, we're still in this fight. That's how passionate I feel about change in this facility.”
The National Labor Relations Board will hold a hearing next to decide on details of a vote.
In a statement, Meadows CEO Robin Weagley said the hospital is “persistently dedicated” to the safety of staff and patients and will respect the outcome of a union election.
“Should the majority of employees choose union representation through a full and fair election process culminating in a secret ballot election as provided for under the [National Labor Relations Act], we will respect that federally protected right and bargain in good faith with the recognized representative,” Weagley wrote.
Since this story was published, Weagley followed up by email to add that The Meadows does not believe allegations brought by union petitioners have merit. "The facts will bear that out in the parties' administrative proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board," she wrote.
A rally to support unionization at The Meadows will be held next Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. outside the facility.