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Employees and friends gather to rally support for Rainier School

Rainier School employees, family members of clients and a handful of supporters from other union chapters braved showers and mud Sunday to protest Gov. Chris Gregoire’s budget proposal to shut down state institutions, including the residential habilitation center on Ryan Road. The rally took place at the park on the intersection of Ryan Road and state Route 410 East, where supporters donned ponchos or carried umbrellas while they waved signs toward the highway traffic.

Joy Cage, the president of local union chapter 491 of the Washington Federation of State Employees, led a chant of “Heck no, we won’t go,” on her bullhorn. Every few minutes, cars honked their support as they passed.

“I would ask the governor, what about the safety of our people at Rainier School and other institutions?’” Cage said. “What is going to happen to our clients? The governor is proposing to close corrections facilities, which means more criminals on the street. She’s proposing to cut jobs, which means unemployment up the ying-yang. That means people will be depressed, they will be sad and they will be desperate. People in that situation will do anything to get what they need.

“My question to the governor would be, ‘Do you even care about the citizens of Washington, or do you just want to cut money?’”

A figure frequently cited for keeping Rainier open is that the institution employs nearly 1,000 people, and that local economic catastrophe could result from the disappearance of those jobs. Rainier School employs 950 people.

The issue of where and how Rainier’s 371 residents will be relocated was also brought up by protestors. The state and consultants on the governor’s proposal have explored privately run institutions and State Operated Living Alternative (SOLA) houses as options for resident relocation, as well as community placement.

“We’re not against people being placed in the community, and that’s a goal for many of our residents,” Union Local 491 Vice President Diane Rauschenberg said. “But residents (of Rainier) can go outside at night, and they’re in a facility where there’s support and it is safe to do that. If a resident is suddenly placed in the community, they could decide to leave home at night and that could create problems.

“You also have to keep in mind that the bulk of the employees are over 20 year employees. They don’t work to get rich and famous. They do it because they care for the residents.”

Joanne Kicken, an employee at Rainier School who formerly worked as a home care nurse, said the institutional setting was important because their ample staff made them capable of managing clients whom she would not have been allowed to care for by herself as a nurse.

Tom Dean, a parent of a Rainier resident who has been in the institution for 39 years, and a member of advocacy group Friends of Rainier since its founding in 1977, said he was surprised at the governor’s proposal.

“I was startled by it because she had worked in (the Department of Social and Health Services) and she and her husband had worked in the department when they met,” he said. “I was startled that she had put this in her budget because it showed that she did not believe in continuum support.”

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