Howard Brown Health (HBH) Workers United members held an evening post-Unfair Labor Practices (ULP) strike rally Nov. 15 in front of the new multi-story HBH Halsted clinic. It was the conclusion of their two-day strike that began the day before. Picketing took place both days at three HBH clinic locationsSheridan Road, Halsted Street and 63rd Street.
Additionally, on Nov. 14, a morning press conference took place at the HBH clinic location on 63rd Street where Dem. Illinois state Sen. Robert Peters, an HBH patient, spoke in favor of striking workers.
This two-day strike was approved by 96% of the members over HBH management's failure to negotiate a fair contract as well as persistent unfair labor practices. HBH Workers United are demanding equity for North and South side workers, better patient care, living wages, affordable insurance, protections from layoffs and other issues. They are also asking the public to boycott spending their money at the Brown Elephant until their demands are met.
HBH External Relations Vice President Katie Metos said in an email statement to Windy City Times that, "In response to the work stoppage, Howard Brown Health implemented a contingency plan to ensure all patient appointments were fulfilled over its two-day strike, while also following all labor regulations. Over a third of the agency's bargaining unit crossed the picket line to support patient care at the organization. Nearly 600 patients received care during the strike.
"… In the same way that our patients rely on us, we must provide our staff with the tools they need to best serve our community. To better meet these needs, Howard Brown proposed a contract offer last week that includes a new living wage for all staff, transparency of pay, comprehensive insurance for part-time workers, a reworked disciplinary system and much more."
HBH Workers United, represented by the Illinois Nurses Association (INA), have been in contract negotiations for over a year. Since then, they have won several ULP suits filed against HBH management over unilateral changes to working conditions and terminations that were ruled unjust by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region 13. Those employees were reinstated due to the ruling.
The over 50 striking workers and their allies received honks of approval from many passing vehicles Nov. 15, including UPS and waste management trucks and CTA buses. Two strikers provided drum beats while multiple chants were shouted including "We are the union, the mighty, mighty union," "Get up, get down, Chicago is a union town" and "Our CEO is such a clown that he is destroying Howard Brown."
Speakers included HBH employees and union bargaining committee members Julian Modugno, Andrea Villanueva and Josseline Almengor as well as Berlin Nightclub employee and union member Maya Vadell and Starbucks Workers United union member and employee Nicole Deming, whose remarks were punctuated with cheers from fellow strikers.
Modungo kicked off the remarks in front of the HBH Halsted front door with an inflatable rat they named scabby as a backdrop. He said that after he protested in front of HBH President and CEO David Ernesto Munar's house he and 60 of his work colleagues were illegally laid off. Modungo added that he and 24 of his fellow workers returned to their jobs following the NLRB Region 13 ruling because "we believe in the mission of this organization.
"It has been a tough year for [David] because he has had to keep wages low for years because he needed to buy a house and Tesla in the same year … Under David's [leadership], Howard Brown saw its first-ever strike. Not only that, under David, Howard Brown saw its second-ever strike … The support that we have felt over these past two days and over the past year we have been negotiating has been amazing."
Villanueva spoke about also being an HBH patient and thanked the allies who came out to protest. She added that it has been two years since this union fight began "and when we win our fair contract, we will make Howard Brown a radical organization. One that treats its workers with dignity and respect. That gives them a voice and protections from constant changes to their working conditions. It will become an organization that truly prioritizes patients in marginalized and underserved communities while locating its resources where they are needed the most."
Additionally, Villanueva pointed to the new flagship location behind her and called it a "monolith that this organization went into debt to pay for."
Almengor spoke about how they are striking for better patient careincluding their own care at HBHbecause they have no where else to go to get healthcare. They added that "we deserve queer liberation, not exploitation" and thanked INA for their support. Almengor also called on strikers to shout out, "We will not be silenced."
Vadell, who is also an HBH patient, said they knew it was important to be present at this rally to show their support. They added that fighting for what one deserves in the workplace "can be exhausting and dehumanizing … without multiple avenues of support."
Deming said it has been two years since Starbuck employees formed their union, and, "Just like you, we have not seen one lawyer at the bargaining table. Being a proud union member is so deeply entrenched in my experience at Starbucks but you know what else is, harassment, discrimination, mistreatment and I am not alone. I have collected hundreds of stories from partners. The scare tactics and mistreatment we have seen in the news is nothing new [with raises only being given to non-union Starbucks employees]."
When asked about earlier allegations that, in the name of efficiency, patient care has been shortchanged by reducing caregivers' time with each patient, Metos said in the same email statement, "Howard Brown has operated with 20 and 40-minute cycle times since before we became an FQHC in 2015. This 20/40 min split is for cycle time, which is the time that the provider spends directly with the patient. This does not include check-in time, time spent taking vitals and getting baseline information with a Medical Assistant, or time spent getting bloodwork done. Most community health centers operate with 15 and 30 minute cycle times. We provide more time for interaction between patients and providers in order to support the potentially complex needs of our patients."
Additionally, Metos said in response to allegations that it was only after HBH workers protested in front of David Munar's house that workers were illegally laid off that "Howard Brown has clearly and consistently communicated about its ongoing efforts in the last year to address severe revenue shortfalls that have come as a result of changes to federal funding structures for community health centers. The claim that last January's workforce reduction came as some sort of petty revenge for a one-night protest in front our CEO's home is absolutely ridiculous and ignorant of the material and financial realities our organization has been faced with and that Howard Brown has openly discussed and bargained with its union."
Finally, Metos said in response to allegations that Munar has kept wages low for years while living extravagantly himself: "Howard Brown compensates its staff more competitively than nearly every other FQHC and Community Health Center (CHC) in the city of Chicago and has made that commitment to its workers for many years. The wages that we have offered to the union go beyond the standard in every comparison we have found. Our CEO's compensation is below average for his position when compared to other CHCs and LGBT health centers locally and nationally. The focus on our CEO's pay and personal life is a cruel distraction technique designed to shift focus away from the fact that Howard Brown has and will continue to pay its workers fairly and equitably."
In an email statement to this publication, Munar said, "The contract offer commits Howard Brown to invest an additional $5 million for its workforce over two years. As a non-profit serving more than 50% of people living in poverty, we are stretching our organization while ensuring we can still meet our obligations. I am proud to support a significant investment in our workforce that will build the agency's future.
"Today, Howard Brown staff have come back together to continue to serve our community in the ways that we know no one else can. The reason we all have chosen to join Howard Brown is our shared mission of providing culturally competent, affirming care to our patients and community members. As the new year approaches, we are poised to begin 2024 as one of the strongest unionized nonprofits in Chicago. That is a win for all of us. I am proud of that and believe that Howard Brown will be better for it."
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