Gary Gets Behind Hospital Workers
Client: Indiana Labor News
This article published in August 2000 received full front page coverage, banner headline and photos treatment, and jumped to an inside page. The Indiana Labor News is the oldest labor newspaper in Indiana, publishing since 1965.
Sample: Gary Gets Behind Hospital Workers
A strong union town, a disciplined picket line and community leaders willing to get down and dirty all contributed to a successful settlement in the 5-week strike at Methodist Hospital in Gary last month.
Workers risked their careers at the hospital to face intimidation and possible replacement, but the union and the community held together.
“We were over 85 – 90 percent at both campuses (Northlake and Southlake),” Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees International Union Local 73, which represents the workers, reported. “There was only a 5 – 9 percent slippage over the 5 weeks,” he said. Such high numbers are rare in service worker strikes.
“The members were great. That’s the victory here,” added Chief Negotiator Alice Bush.
The strike of 650 service and maintenance workers June 1 at Gary’s only hospital was the last resort of workers who had faced two and three tier wage scales, excessive overtime and the ever-increasing use of temporary workers. The union leadership called upon community allies to bolster worker morale as well as move negotiations with Methodist. The Rev. Marion Johnson Jr., President of the Baptist Leadership Council, organized a rally, local politicians met with hospital officials, Rev. Jesse Jackson walked through the hospital, and Mayor Scott Cole forced the two sides together in a last ditch effort to come to an agreement and end the strike.
“We anticipated their moves and were always able to cut them off at the pass,” said Balanoff.
The janitors, nursing assistants, food service workers and other service workers will see 11 – 20 percent in wage increases over the course of the contract. Union bargainers were also able to close the gap between the tiers, and negotiate contract language intended to eliminate the use of temporaries and increase the number of permanent jobs. Union leaders improved the job security language as well, providing for hospital-wide seniority instead of the previous “cost-center” seniority. Cost centers can be units smaller than some departments. The contract was ratified by a 2-1 margin at a previously-scheduled union meeting just hours after the last bargaining session.
While Balanoff, son of recently-deceased Gary icon Jim Balanoff of USWA Local 1010, credits the reputation of Gary as a union town, (“they wouldn’t dare try to bring permanent replacements in, because we could build around that”), that reputation didn’t stop the hospital from hiring Asset Protection Team, APT, termed “professional goons” by Balanoff and known for their work in the Detroit Newspaper strike.
“They were intimidating, and as the strike went on they became provocative,” explained Balanoff. “They were trying to incite violence on the picket line so the hospital could get an injunction… which they were never able to do.” Gary police also worked off duty, in uniform and with full police power, until an incident at a rally where witnesses say two officers waded through the crowd of 200 workers. One pulled out his gun and arrested a union organizer. The city changed its policy on off-duty police work after the incident.
Despite some tense moments, worksite leaders from SEIU Local 73 reported that the strike was in many ways good for them and their co-workers.
“It was actually a positive experience being on strike,” said German Ortiz, a Food Service Worker with 13 years at the hospital. “People banded together and got to know each other in ways that they never would have.”
Negotiating team member Alicia Scegiel, a housekeeper at Methodist for 18 years, agreed. “We became one big family on the outside. That wouldn’t have occurred on the inside where everyone stays in their own little departments,” she said.