Workers on a three-day strike demonstrated outside a Howard Brown Health center Tuesday to denounce the organization’s decision to lay off a group of 61 union workers in the midst of contract negotiations.
The workers received notice that they had been laid off Friday. Their jobs range from clinical therapists to facility management employees.
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The workers are part of a group of 450 employees who formed a union over the summer that’s negotiating its first contract.
Leaders with the newly formed Howard Brown Health Workers United union said the layoffs came after assurances union workers would not face layoffs. Union leadership has filed unfair labor charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
The new union is affiliated with the Illinois Nurses Association. Nurses at Howard Brown previously unionized and work under a separate contract.
Howard Brown has clinics around the city that provide services to the LGBTQ community.
Lindsey Martin, a therapist who worked at a health center at 4025 N. Sheridan Road, marched and chanted in the rain outside her former office Tuesday morning with dozens of other union members.
Martin, who was laid off, said she worried about the continuation of care for clients who, after building a relationship of trust, had the bond abruptly severed because of the layoffs.
“I see people who are experiencing everything from anxiety to extreme mental health issues,” she said.
Howard Brown said the layoffs were part of a plan to close a $12 million revenue shortfall while maintaining patient services.
Wren O’Kelley, a spokesperson for Howard Brown, said in an email Tuesday morning: “We support our employees in the union and their right to express their opinion. For our patients, we are continuing services.”
Union workers claim Howard Brown management had ample time to plan for the decrease in federal funding and is using the shortfall as an excuse for layoffs in an attempt to decrease the power of the new union.
Laid-off workers will receive severance pay and health insurance coverage through January.
“After looking at every option for cost-saving measures, many of which we have already started to implement, we are now taking difficult but necessary actions to reduce expenses with a reduction in workforce,” said David Ernesto Munar, president and CEO of Howard Brown.
“The goal is to minimize the impact on our employees and maintain the high-quality services that our patients expect and deserve. While painful in the short term, these cost-saving measures will help ensure Howard Brown’s ability to serve our communities for decades to come.”
Margo Gislain, an organizer with the Illinois Nurses Association, said she hopes the charges before the National Labor Relations Board will result in the workers’ jobs being restored with back pay.