Following a brutal workplace attack in October that left her unconscious and hospitalized, Tina Suckow is speaking out. She and her AFSCME sisters and brothers are raising their voices against her firing by Iowa state authorities and in favor of a federal bill that would help prevent such workplace attacks.
On Oct. 24, Suckow, then a nurse at the Independence Mental Health Institute in Independence, Iowa, was attacked by a man believed to have been having a manic episode. The man attacked her with his fists, causing her head, knee and shoulder injuries that required hospitalization and surgery. Eight months later, she is still recovering.
“Of course, my co-workers rallied around me. Nurses stick together,” Suckow, who is a member of Local 2987, AFSCME Council 61, wrote in an email to fellow AFSCME members. “But my managers and the state of Iowa? They took the worst day of my life and somehow made it worse. They refused to let my co-workers donate vacation days to help me make it through. They refused my request for unpaid time off once my paid sick time ran out. And finally, they fired me.”
In 2017, state workers in Iowa lost collective bargaining rights, including the ability to negotiate over safety issues in the workplace. Since then, Iowa state government terminations or forced resignations have nearly tripled, according to the Des Moines Register. The 2017 law that trampled state workers’ rights has emboldened state authorities to treat workers with contempt, Suckow told the Register.
But we can make workplaces safer by supporting a federal proposal that would create an enforceable standard for workplace safety. Called the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act (H.R. 1309), the bill would create a standard requiring health care and social service employers to write and implement a workplace violence prevention plan.
It would direct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to issue a standard requiring such employers to write and implement plans that protect their employees from violent incidents. In a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, Danny Homan, president of AFSCME Iowa Council 61, urged passage of the bill.
“Some employers act as if workplace violence in health care and social service settings is part of the job. It is not,” he wrote. “Workplace violence, especially in health care settings, has clear patterns and identifiable risks. Research has found that evidence-based practices, when implemented consistently, can significantly reduce incidents of workplace violence.”
He asked members of the committee to “bear in mind Tina Suckow,” describing the violent episode and severe injuries she suffered.
“We need an enforceable OSHA standard on workplace violence prevention now,” Homan wrote. “Years before Ms. Suckow’s attack, in 1996, OSHA issued voluntary guidance for workplace violence prevention in health care and social service assistance settings. Voluntary guidance is not enough.”