Howard Brown Health workers could strike for the second time this year

About 350 retail and health care workers affiliated with Howard Brown Health voted in favor of the strike, the second of its kind at Howard Brown in less than a year.

The strike vote was held Friday among 366 members of Howard Brown Health Workers United. Votes were counted Tuesday morning.

The vote brought support for a strike by 96% of unregistered Howard Brown nursing staff, including nurse practitioners and workers at Brown Elephant resale stores, where the proceeds will be transferred to Howard Brown. The strikers will be represented by the Illinois Nurses Association, the largest nurses union in Illinois.

Registered nurses at Howard Brown Health have a separate union, also represented by the Illinois Nurses Association.

Union members said that a strike would last for two days if it happened, health agency spokesman Howard Brown told the Chicago Tribune. However, the union has not yet given Howard Brown a formal strike notice, said Claire Gilbertsen, an events specialist at Howard Brown and a member of the union bargaining committee. Once notice is given, a strike will not take place for at least 10 days.

INA organizer Ronnie Peterson said, “We will see how management reacts to the strike vote and the results of the strike vote and we hope management will make some moves.” about this issue. We don’t want to strike, but we will if necessary to get a fair contract.

As a federally qualified health center that receives federal funds to assist low-income patients, Howard Brown Health currently operates 11 clinics throughout Chicago and provides a variety of social services to residents. . With deep roots in Uptown and Northalsted, Howard Brown clinics specialize in treating LGBTQ patients and those living with HIV.

Members of Howard Brown Health Workers United are currently fighting to win their first contract after the union was formed 14 months ago. Negotiations have been going on for more than a year now.

A spokesman said in a statement that Howard Brown management has agreed to approximately 80% of the contract terms proposed by union members. Howard Brown predicted a strike would happen and said they would have an alternative care plan for patients.

“We want to sign the contract as soon as possible so we can focus on our shared mission: taking care of our community,” the spokesperson said. Throughout this process, we have been honest about our resource limitations in the face of financial challenges.

In recent negotiations, Howard Brown proposed an hourly wage in line with the city’s minimum wage, Gilbertsen said, which made it difficult for some workers to afford homes. Management has since increased the offer to $19.23 an hour for hourly workers, a 17% increase for some retail workers.

Gilbertsen said the union’s wage transparency studies also show some workers at Howard Brown clinics on the South Side are paid up to $5,000 less annually than their North Side colleagues.

Behind it all, Gilbertsen said, is racial inequality. So we’re trying to make sure that everyone who has problems is heard.

If a strike occurs, Gilbertsen said, the action would support contract demands, including guaranteed full-time employment opportunities for Brown Elephant retail employees. Union members are also demanding cost-of-living wage adjustments and the creation of opportunities for gender-related health care to be covered under employee health insurance.

Gender-affirming care refers to any form of care that supports transgender and nonbinary people in expressing their gender identity. Gender-affirming care is often social, including respecting transgender people’s pronouns. In a medical setting, it may include access to testosterone or estrogen, gender confirmation surgery, or psychiatric counseling.

During negotiations, management offered two weeks of paid leave after gender reassignment surgery. A Howard Brown Health spokesperson also told the Tribune on Tuesday that discussions have included enhanced health care benefits for all employees.

As the largest LGBTQ-focused health care provider in the Midwest, Howard Brown provides gender-affirming care to many Chicagoans but offers a plan, Gilbertsen said. Health care plans often prohibit employees from making such payments.

Some employees, especially retail workers at Brown Elephant locations, choose not to participate in the employee wellness program at all because the deductibles are too expensive compared to part-time wages, Gilbertsen said. their time.

What you’re providing to the community, you have to be able to provide that to your workforce as well,” Gilbertsen said.

Gilbertsen described a major divide between management and union members, many of whom recently returned to Howard Brown after more than 400 workers went on strike for three days in January.

Howard Brown leaders have offered to buy the entire company by the end of 2022, citing a $12 million budget shortfall, then cut 16% of its workforce, the Tribune previously reported there.

A round of 64 layoffs that began on the January strike included 61 union members. The union rejected the proposed buyout and filed several unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board, some of which were found to be well-founded.

Following the NLRB’s July ruling, Howard Brown reinstated 61 fired union employees with back pay. Gilbertsen, among those who chose to return, said an apologetic welcome from management did not erase the pain she saw as punishment for union organizing.

“I was outright retaliated against for talking about the union,” Gilbertsen said. She was given a performance improvement plan shortly before her dismissal, which, she said, included a recommendation to limit talking about union activities because it made some people feel uncomfortable roof.

A bargaining session between Howard Brown Health employees and union workers took place Tuesday. After receiving notice of the strike vote, Howard Brown declined to make any counterproposal on Tuesday.

The union will hold a protest outside Howard Brown Health Halsted on Thursday night to raise money for the strike fund. The protest will also protest a fundraiser taking place at the same time inside the $53 million Halsted clinic, Howard Brown’s newest location.

Gilbertsen said striking workers would do so without pay. While unionized workers are ready to protest, their ability to continue the strike depends on how much the strike fund increases in the next few days.

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