Howard Brown Health Center (HBHC) unveiled a new campaign focused on its resale store, the Brown Elephant, Dec. 16. State Rep. Sara Feingenholtz, D-12th Dist., was on hand to help make the announcement at the North Halsted Brown Elephant location.
Called "Donate Shop Save Lives," the campaign seeks to remind customers that profits made by Brown Elephant go toward charity care. Jim Cobb, director of business development at HBHC, told Windy City Times that the store was being retooled to give it less of a thrift-store atmosphere and more of a retail environment.
The Brown Elephant, with three branches across the city and Oak Park, has continued to make profits for HBHC even in a difficult economy, perhaps precisely because it is a thrift store that offers discounted prices. This is confirmed on its own website: Although there are no numbers about actual profits, the site claims that "more than 740,000 items are sold" each year.
However, Windy City Times has heard persistent reports that this has come amid drastic cutting of staff hours so that only very few employees now have full-time hours and healthcare. When asked at the Dec. 16 event, Cobb put the figure of full-time employees at around nine. However, when contacted later for more details, he said he could not confirm the number and we would have to contact PCI, HBHC's public-relations company (which has been handling all communications with WCT) for confirmation.
We have asked HBHC to confirm the number of employees who are full-time and enjoy healthcare benefits, what percentage of employees out of the total number and/or what number of employees out of the total number are full-time versus part-time.
Windy City Times also asked if there had been a recent shift in numbers and, if so, when that shift occurred. At a November press conference, HBHC CEO Jamal Edwards had said, "We have had to make some changes in the staffing pattern of the Brown Elephant stores; we had a number of full-time employees at management level and supervisor levels. We do not have as many full-time employees any more at the sales associate level. That's unfortunate. Again, that's not a problem that I created; that's what we inherited and we're trying to fix. The fact that we can't provide insurance to all of our [employees] right now is not something that I'm proud of. That's something I'm determined to turn around, we can't do that without getting our finances in order."
HBHC has so far declined to give any numbers. In its latest written response, it said, "This subject was addressed at the recent press conference for which WCT was in attendance. Like any retail business, the Brown Elephant has a mixture of full-time and part-time employees serving to meet the needs of the business and its customers. However, as a business with competition and aggressive competitors, there will be no further comment on the internal business management and business model that could harm the competitiveness of the Brown Elephant."
It was not made clear why giving numbers would harm the competitiveness of the establishment. It is also unclear how much could be generated in savings by cutting the healthcare of employees, particularly those who work for the retail outlet of a healthcare service provider.