“ A Change Is Gonna Come”September 21, 2021
To celebrate Juneteenth, workers at Baltimore’s VSP took their yearlong contract fight to the boss’s house.
A group of MDDC region workers this year marked Juneteenth with a dramatic action standing up for workers’ rights—and in keeping with the holiday’s spirit of ending oppression.
Workers from LifeBridge Health Vocational Services Program (VSP) in Baltimore held rally at the Carol County home of VSP Director Lisa Mules who has for over a year been thwarting VSP workers’ attempts to organize. VSP, a department of Sinai Hospital, provides vocational services for disabled people.
According to its website, the 50-year-old organization serves over 300 disabled individuals, who are almost exclusively people of color.
On July 3, 2020, VSP workers filed for their first union election. VSP management immediately moved against the workers’ organizing efforts. And since that first election, the workers—most of whom make under $12 an hour—have voted overwhelmingly to join 1199 in three separate elections. Mules and other VSP execs have continued to challenge the workers’ right to a union—even though courts have twice ruled for workers, with a third case still pending at press time. Though VSP describes its mission as offering careers for people with disabilities, executives continue to deny workers’ their basic rights, say VSP staffers.
Many, like building worker Wilzona Taylor, have worked at the organization for decades. She says their employer is not living up to its commitments to workers and does not respect basic good practices like adequate scheduling and training.
“A lot of us have been working for seven days a week but not receiving the correct pay for working seven days, which is overtime—even though VSP has been well aware that they should have been paying us overtime,” says Taylor, who’s been with VSP for over three decades.
“Management changed our shifts [to] from 12 noon to 8 p.m. so we wouldn’t receive the overtime.”
Edward Daniels, a cleaner at VSP for 23 years, says their contract fight is also about fair wages and bonuses, advancement opportunities, good retirement, and basic respect.
Cleaner Joe Pullen pointed out that VSP recently ended their contributions to the workers’ retirement plan, causing great anxiety to the staff. None of VSPs actions reflect their mission of rehabilitation, he says.
“They claim they are a rehabilitation facility,” he said. “But they don’t post jobs, and they don’t train you for other work, like the property manager position.” So, workers decided to hold a caravan and rally on June 19, a day celebrating Black freedom, at Director Lisa Mules’ house to remind VSP management that fighting workers’ legal right to organize is a form of oppression.
“[What’s going on at VSP] makes me think of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where people created Black Wall Street, and [white Tulsa] people were jealous of Black people prospering,” says cleaner Joe Pullen. “They thought we should be beneath them, when what we want is an equal share.”
Since the Juneteenth demonstration, workers have been demanding that VSP “Stop the Appeal! Let’s Make a Deal!” Pullen is prepared to stay in the fight for the long haul: “Take it from Mr. Sam Cooke: through our hard work and sweat, ‘A Change is Gonna Come.’”
1199 Magazine | July - August 2021