By CARL GREEN
Granite City, IL – Thirty-one union dietary workers at Gateway Medical Center – a union town hospital – are out of work because the hospital switched to a new subcontractor that replaced them.
Gateway’s contract with Morrison Healthcare ended on Thursday, Jan. 31. The workers were told to re-apply for their jobs, but when the new sub-contractor, HHS, took over on Friday, Feb. 1, the veteran workers were gone, along with their union, SEIU Healthcare, after many years of taking care of Granite City-area patients.
SEIU sought to keep its members employed and obtained a letter from three state representatives in support of the dietary workers, to no avail.
MARRIED FATHER, OUT OF A JOB
One of the replaced workers is Jerome Collins, a married father with a teenage son and seven-year-old daughter. He has worked at Gateway for 15 years and was earning $13.52 an hour.
Collins helped organize a rally at the hospital to protest. “When folks talk about a ‘rigged economy’ where working people don’t ever get a fair shake, what’s happening at Gateway is a perfect example,” he said.
“It’s clear to me that Gateway is simply retaliating against our fellow members for being in a union. Why else are they getting rid of an entire workforce that is dedicated, who knows our jobs and what we have to do to get the job done?”
SHE’S 70, NOT READY TO RETIRE
Seventy-year-old Leslie Maroon is out of a job after starting at the hospital 28 years ago, back when it as known as St. Elizabeth’s – it changed to Gateway in 2004. She was making $12.37 an hour before losing her job.
“Back in the 1990s – when we didn’t have a union – I went an entire decade without a single raise,” she said. “We were in constant fear that we would lose our jobs, and as a working mom, I couldn’t afford to lose mine. I’m 70 years old right now, and I wasn’t planning on retiring just yet.”
The workers had hoped hospital CEO William Cunningham would acknowledge their decades of service and protect their jobs.
“But Mr. Cunningham apparently thinks my 28 years of service don’t matter that much to him,” Leslie Maroon said. “It matters to me. I gave my absolute best serving my patients, supporting families and my community, and helping my co-workers every chance I got.”
LEGISLATORS ON WORKERS’ SIDE
The legislators’ letter to Cunningham was signed by Senator Christopher Belt (D-Cahokia) and Representatives LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis) and Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea). Written before the workers knew they were not being kept on the job, the letter states: “It’s simply not right nor is it fair that these hospital workers are being put in this position,” it says.
“We respectfully call upon you to instruct your management company, HHS, to recognize SEIU Healthcare as the bargaining representative of the dietary workers, to abide by the terms and conditions of the collective bargaining agreement, and to hire the current dietary workers and respect their years of seniority.
“Many of these workers earn low wages, and any disruption of their income and ability to pay their bills could be catastrophic to them and their families,” the letter states.
UNION STANDS WITH WORKERS
The union said Gateway’s lack of fairness, its greed and its union-busting agenda are an indictment of the entire hospital industry, which earns billions using low-wage workers without providing affordable healthcare to its own workforce while suppressing their wages and fighting their unions.
Faith Arnold, executive vice president for SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana, told the workers it was ironic they are being let go just after the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his battle against injustice.
“Well, there is some serious injustice happening right here at Gateway,” she said. “Our union does not leave workers or any community behind. We stand shoulder-to-shoulder and support each other. Powerful interests such as the hospital industry are afraid of what an organized, unionized workforce can achieve. They are afraid of what our unity can accomplish. That’s why they will stop at nothing to deny workers the right to join a union and do their best to disband workers organizing together.”
The workers were also supported by Presbyterian pastor Jennifer Warren Hauser. “It is plain, to anyone watching, the cruel and unfair way that dietary workers within our community are being unfairly treated,” she said.
“Throwing workers out of work for no fault of their own and who are supporting their families and earning poverty-level wages is simply irresponsible and immoral. It’s time that Gateway brings back their dietary workforce and allow them to keep doing their jobs.”