Howard Brown Health workers offered job reinstatement following union settlement

All 61 employees affected by the layoffs were offered their jobs back, 24 accepted and the others will receive back pay for the time they spent unemployed, the health center said.

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Howard Brown Health workers and their supporters march during an unfair labor practice strike outside Howard Brown Health Sheridan in the Uptown neighborhood in January. Sixty-one workers were illegally laid off on December 30, 2022, according to Margo Gislain of the Illinois Nurses Association.

Howard Brown Health workers and their supporters march during an unfair labor practice strike outside Howard Brown Health Sheridan in the Uptown neighborhood in January. Sixty-one workers were illegally laid off on December 30, 2022, according to Margo Gislain of the Illinois Nurses Association.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times (file)

Having reached a settlement, Howard Brown Health on Tuesday announced its intention to reinstate 24 employees and provide back pay to more than 30 others who had been laid off in an attempt to cut costs at the LGBTQ health care center.

The health care center, which eliminated 61 union workers in January during contract negotiations to bridge a $12 million revenue shortfall, engaged in bad faith bargaining during contract negotiations with the Howard Brown Health Workers United union, according to the National Labor Relations Board. Now, the center is seeking to repair its relationship with the union and said it would continue to negotiate with union leaders to reach a mutually agreeable contract.

“The NLRB findings were that we did not meet the full bargaining obligations because of the speed at which we implemented our layoffs,” said Katie Metos, a spokesperson for Howard Brown Health. “It was always our intention to bargain in good faith and protect the financial viability of our organization.”

The organization offered reinstatement to all 61 employees affected by the layoffs, Metos said. Those who chose not to return will receive back pay, minus severance, for any period of time where they were not employed.

Despite the offer, some workers said the layoffs were “absolutely retaliatory” against the union’s actions, and they said they did not want to return.

Others like Mady Perales, an executive assistant who accepted reinstatement and uses she/they pronouns, said they were celebrating their return to the center.

Perales said she struggled to stay afloat after the layoffs and had to sleep on a friend’s couch for months as she searched for a job.

“I had to go between packing my belongings, worrying about where I would live next and fighting to keep receiving my unemployment benefits,” Perales said.

Perales eventually found another job — which paid substantially less, she said.

“I’m glad to be back and celebrating that fact; it has been an infuriating, empowering, devastating, hopeful time all at once,” Perales said. “Now, it is essential to work towards a fair first contract so nothing of the likeness of this progression of events ever happens to anyone.”

Employees, patients, and community members will rally Thursday in support of a fair contract for Howard Brown Health workers.

The center cut positions that were COVID-specific and slimmed down behavioral health and social services programming teams to deal with the revenue loss, the center said.

Some administrative positions were also cut based on duplication of work.

“We are a health center, so we did our best to strategically identify ways to cut costs and protect our core services first, meaning no clinical care was impacted,” Metos said. “Even with the challenges that we’ve faced, we’re doing everything we can to make sure that our patients are still receiving the best possible care.”

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