April 16, 2019

1199ers lead the fight to save vital Washington, D.C., medical center.

SaveUMC.jpgWorkers and community members in Washington, D.C., are fighting to change the narrative at one local hospital. United Medical Center (UMC), a quasi-public facility which has for generations served the residents of the District’s Southeast and Wards 7 and 8, is slated for a dramatic downsizing which activists say is dangerous for Southeast residents and unfair to workers.

“This hospital is the only one on the east side of the [Anacostia] river. We have nursing homes and clinics but no hospitals that can do what we do,” says Tony Powell, a Unit Secretary at UMC for 43 years.

“Right now, we’re being run [in part] by George Washington University Hospital, which is all the way up in Foggy Bottom. If they close this hospital and people wind up having to go all the way there in an emergency, they could die.”

Over the years, the hospital has been plagued by accusations of mismanagement, financial turmoil and concerns about patient safety.

Long a thorn in the side of D.C. officials, the District is working to get the hospital—and the challenges that come with running one—off its books. “Every time they bring in a new consultant they’re from somewhere else, like Florida or somewhere,” says Mammo Tech Tracey Williams. “They come in with ideas that don’t necessarily work here.

They don’t know the culture or what it’s like here.”

UMC has been rescued from the brink of closure numerous times by determined workers, an involved union, active local residents, and political will. But over the last two years UMC has been battered by a particularly vicious storm of challenges, including service reductions, a secretive board determined to reduce the hospital’s size, questionable actions by the Washington, D.C., City Council and a takeover attempt by union busting, Universal Health Services, a Pennsylvania-based concern that runs scores of hospitals and clinics across the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

“We keep hearing that Universal is going to take us over, but that our jobs aren’t guaranteed,” says Jesse Adams, a UMC floor tech for 17 years.

“They keep saying we will get first preference for any new jobs. People are worried about losing seniority.

“They want to build condos and maybe stores. Real high-end stuff that changes the dynamic of the community,”

–Tony Powell, Unit Secretary at United

What about the people who have been working for UMC for 20 years?” And Universal Health Services has shown workers they have good reason to be concerned; the company’s holdings include George Washington University Hospital (GWUH) in the District’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood, where 1199ers are currently in a protracted contract struggle with the company for refusing to recognize the collective bargaining agreement.

Powell notes that Universal Health is another in a long succession of managers hungrily eyeing UMC.

“They have been trying to get their hands on our hospital for a long time. They want to build condos and maybe stores. Real high-end stuff that changes the dynamic of the community,” he says.

But in spite of union-busting management and unreliable elected officials, Powell says 1199ers aren’t giving up on UMC.

“I’m concerned about my community,” he says. “The people of Southeast need someone to advocate for them.”

1199 Magazine | March / April 2019