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Drive by Chase Brexton workers to unionize heats up

The Chase Brexton Health Services Mt. Vernon Center. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record).

The Chase Brexton Health Services Mt. Vernon Center. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record).

An attempt by workers at a local health care provider to unionize has heated up in recent weeks, especially after the firing of five people involved in that effort led to an online petition that garnered over 1,300 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.

Chase Brexton workers want to unionize mainly because of concerns over patient care, one employee said.

“People were just feeling like management wasn’t listening to their concerns about how patient care was being delivered,” said Jill Crank, a nurse practitioner who was among the five employees fired. “It was getting to the point that we felt was unsafe.”

A group of professionals from Chase Brexton including physicians, nurse practitioners, therapists, social workers and dentists, reached out to SEIU 1199, the union branch the employees want to join. The employees complained of increases in the number of patients they have to see, shorter appointment times and patients getting double-booked, said Brian Owens, union leader for SEIU 1199.

“Their main concern is patient care,” said Owens.

Jill Crank. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Jill Crank. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Therapy sessions that used be scheduled for an hour were now being scheduled for 45 minutes, giving therapists less time to take notes and maintain records, Owens said. It also doesn’t leave time for patients to come in for emergencies. Social workers have reported difficulties with case management and information that would usually be covered in a meeting is now distributed on a card to save time, he added.

The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment or to discuss the circumstances of the employees’ dismissals.

Emails obtained by the Baltimore Sun show that CEO Richard Larison has sought to dissuade workers from backing the unionization drive. A vote by 135 Chase Brexton workers to choose whether to organize under SEIU is set for Aug. 25.

“We believe after everyone weighs both sides and has the facts, you will agree with us that you do not need a third party to represent you, and you will vote ‘NO’ on August 25th,” said Larison, “We will get through this process together, and come out of this stronger as an organization and continue to be committed to providing quality health care for our patients.”

If Chase Brexton workers join SEIU 1199, they could get the ability to bargain over the terms and conditions of their employment and company policies, said Owens. The union represents more than 350,000 health care workers in five states and the District of Columbia.

Founded in 1978, Chase Brexton began as a volunteer-run gay men’s health clinic in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood. The company became a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in 1999, a designation for a clinic that receives federal funding to see a range of patients regardless of their financial status, making health care services available to vulnerable populations.

Chase Brexton  is particularly focused on serving the local LGBTQ community and health issues that are especially prevalent within that population.

SEIU 1199 represents a handful of other FQHCs, including Whitman-Walker Health in Washington, which has been unionized for more than 20 years. Whitman-Walker was started in Georgetown in 1973 as a clinic for gay men.

The union has been getting more interest from workers at other FQHCs recently, Owens said.

Supporters of Chase Brexton workers’ unionizing efforts are holding a protest Friday afternoon in front of the clinic’s Mount Vernon location to demand the rehiring of fired workers, according to a Facebook event page about the event.