Chase Brexton Workers Win Their Fight for a UnionOctober 19, 2016
Even firings couldn’t sway determined workers at Baltimore LGBTQ services organization.
After a fraught organizing campaign that involved firings and unfair labor practice charges, and drew a passionate community rally and at least one on line petition, workers at Maryland’s Chase Brexton Health Care on Aug. 25 voted overwhelmingly in favor of representation by 1199SEIU. The vote was 87-9.
Baltimore-based Chase Brexton opened in 1978 as a clinic for gay men and has since grown to be the cornerstone provider of LGBTQ health services in Maryland. The institution’s Baltimore site is one of a handful of safety net clinics in the city and with the inception of Obamacare has seen a major increase in volume. The transgender community has long depended on the institution’s workers’ insightful and sensitive care; the Trans community is vastly underserved by medical services.
“My patients, especially my transgender ones, need a place where they can get proper care with dignity and without fear,” staff psychiatrist Ariel Vitali said at a rally days ahead of the vote. “I stand with my patients and with my colleagues. I stand with 1199SEIU.”
As Chase Brexton caseloads have grown and workers were stretched thinner on just about every front, administrators announced in July a move to a volume-based salary model—in certain classifications of workers’ pay would be based on the volume of patients they could process. Workers pointed this out as a formula for disaster. The workforce was already struggling with burn-out. Patient care would surely suffer. So that’s when about 140 workers at Chase Brexton decided to unionize. Management tried to kill the drive by firing several well-respected supervisors.
SOLIDARITY WITH CHASE BREXTON WORKERS
The move was a miscalculation. Chase Brexton’s action drew swift and firm rebuke from within the progressive community and a broad spectrum of the workers’ allies. Advocacy groups including the Pride Foundation of Maryland and a group of law students at the University of Maryland Law School condemned the organization for interfering with the right to organize. Patients started an on-line petition that garnered over 1,700 signatures.
An Aug. 19 rally at Chase Brexton’s Mt. Vernon headquarters organized by patients, 1199SEIU and the Baltimore Transgender Alliance drew more than 200 workers. Patients and allies who called on the organization to do the right thing for workers and their patients. Demonstrators rallied with signs reading “An Attack on Chase Brexton Workers Is an Attack on Us” and “Support Queer Patients.” Clients expressed grave concern about changes at the clinics.
“They had been kind of conveyor-belting the system of care already, and then they fired workers who understood how to care for us,” Ava Pipitone, told the Baltimore Sun. Pipitone is Executive Director of the Alliance and a Chase Brexton patient.
WORKERS VOTE YES
After a weeks-long media storm and continuing management finger pointing, workers held their Union vote on Aug. 25. At press time, the Chase Brexton workers were preparing for contract negotiations and looking forward to bringing back the fired workers to the patients and jobs they love.
“I stand by the idea of a union and the opportunity to provide quality, lasting comprehensive care for our patients who need it most,” says Dr. Erekda Derouen, one of the clinic’s family medicine physicians.