Howard Brown Health workers begin 2-day strike at Chicago clinics

Tuesday, November 14, 2023
Howard Brown Health workers begin 2-day strike
Howard Brown Health workers went on strike Tuesday at clinics across Chicago.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For the second time this year, workers have walked off the job at Howard Brown Health clinics.

Howard Brown Health workers, including medical assistants, nurse practitioners and patient service representatives, hit the picket lines Tuesday morning.

"We have all of these issues that keep our staff from being able to concentrate on the care that we are giving our patients. We have staff who can not pay their bills and are constantly worried about these things," said Howard Brown Health Partner Services Coordinator Louis Spraggins.

This is the second time the workers have called for a job action this year. They are demanding better wages and working conditions. Employees at the Englewood clinic are part of the strike, which is expected to last two days.

"It's us that are constantly coming here into those conditions, doing the best that we can for our patients each and every day," said Howard Brown Health Lead Medical Assistant Tiffany Foster Mitchell.

Howard Brown Health is the largest LGBTQ+ healthcare clinic system in the Midwest with clinics on the South and North sides of the city. This will be the union's second strike in a year.

It affects all ten clinics across Chicago from the North Side to the South Side along with three Brown Elephant re-sale stores.

About 366 workers are on strike, including medical assistants, nurse practitioners and patient service representatives.

The union said the final straw for them was Howard Brown shortening patient visit times in order to increase traffic through clinics, which only doubled patient loads in a day.

"To rush an appointment is to require someone to either skip a need that they have or have it pushed through in a way that may lead to mistakes getting made by the provider or someone else down the line," Howard Brown employee Andrea Villanueva said. "It is risky for our patients' care and we think it's unacceptable."

Howard Brown Health released a statement, saying, in part, "We 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."

Steven Glass is the chief operating officer for Howard Brown Health, and said the Midwest's largest health care system serving the LGBTQ+ community will continue its mission and will continue to serve anyone in need of care.

"We believe we provided a fair offer we have a fair offer and we stand by what we submitted to them," Glass said.

But, the union said it falls very short of meeting their demands and they expect workers to reject it. They hope that will bring management back to the table.

Meanwhile, several employees spoke on the picket lines at the Howard Brown Health clinic on 63rd Street and Lowe Avenue in Englewood. They said Howard Brown is refusing to negotiate when it comes to protections against layoffs. They also said the pay scale Howard Brown proposed does not even meet inflation standards.

To the point of reducing patient time with providers, Glass said while it is being discussed, the schedules have not changed.

"This is something we continue to discuss with our union partner, and they have brought to us we have our position, and they have their position in bargaining, and we continue to move forward," Glass said.

Howard Brown management said they plan to maintain scheduled appointments at all clinics Tuesday and Wednesday, but patients could experience some delays.

Meanwhile, another bargaining session is set for next Monday.

Howard Brown Health Vice President of External Relations Katie Metos, issued a statement saying, "In response to the work stoppage, Howard Brown Health has implemented a contingency plan that ensures all patient appointments are fulfilled, while also following all labor regulations. Everyone who has a scheduled appointment during this strike will be seen. When our community members seek our care, they are relying on us to meet their vital healthcare needs. We are committed to being a reliable pillar of care for our communities.

"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, we 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."

"'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,' said David Ernesto Munar, President and CEO.

"This offer also contains dozens of tentative proposals that were developed together with the union in the past months at the bargaining table. "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," said David Ernesto Munar.

"The union originally notified us that they would be putting this contract offer to a vote during the week of November 20, but we have learned that the vote will now begin on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

"Whether or not our staff choose to join the picket line this week, we will be ready on Thursday to come together and 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."