|Photo: Bob Ford|
Ten days after the fifth manager
at Chase Brexton Health Care was abruptly fired, a spirited protest and rally was
held in front of the headquarters building on Charles and Chase Streets. The crowd that numbered well over a hundred
crammed that corner on a sun-baked late August 19 afternoon, waving signs and
chanting slogans, such as “Patient Lives Matter.”
Prior to the rally, Chase
Brexton had closed its doors to patients without advance notice. “I was here to pick up medication and have
lab work done, but when I showed up, the center was closed because of the
protest,” said Dave Spellman.
The grievances leveled at Chase
Brexton’s CEO Richard Larison and the organization’s management team centered
on the firings of five long-standing professional managers because, according
to the protesters, it was an attempt to intimidate other employees leading up
to a union vote, which management opposes.
In addition, these individuals who were terminated had provided quality
health care services to a multitude of patients, many of whom are low income
transgender individuals who have no other access to health care.
The crowd consisted largely of Chase
Brexton patients and clients, employees, representatives from the Service
Employees International Union 1199 (SEIU), activists and supporters. Speaker after speaker from various connections
to the care provided at the 38-year-old institution—originally founded as a health clinic for gay men—and
perspectives on the situation were consistent in aiming their remarks at the
removal of Larison, the rehiring of the five managers and deploring the potential poor quality
of health care and services stemming from these terminations.
The speakers, which included such
elected officials as State Senator Rich Madaleno and Delegate Mary Washington, were
mostly clients or patients at Chase Brexton and told personal, often moving
stories of how Chase Brexton’s providers gave them hope.
|Organizer Kate Sumiko Bruce Photo: Bob Ford|
Some were particularly effective
in firing up the crowd. Monica Yorkman,
a transgender activist, warned that the direction Chase Brexton’s management
was taking would turn the institution into a “generic-ass hospital.”
Kate Sumiko Bruce, who is a
patient at Chase Brexton, started organizing the protest, and the SEIU and Baltimore Transgender Alliance contributed to the organizing. Kate’s
spouse, Reece Bruce, a transgender man, is also a patient.
“I organized the protest after
discovering that my provider had been one of the employees fired for attempting
to organize a union at Chase Brexton,” Kate, who emceed the rally, said. “I am
hoping to get the attention of not only the community and media, but also of
the board. I want those with power within Chase Brexton to know that the
current CEO must be replaced, that those fired need to be rehired, and that
bullying and union busting will not be tolerated in Baltimore. We patients love
our providers and the staff at Chase Brexton and want to support them. They
have been there for us so it's our turn to be there for them!”
|Two of the fired five: Jill Crank (L.) and Catherine Fowler|
Photo: Bob Ford
SEIU organizer Brian Owens
agreed. “We’re bringing the community and patients together to bring pressure
on the Board of Directors to stop their intimidation against the workers and
rehire the fired workers.”
The previous day, Becky Frank,
Chase Brexton’s Vice President of Development and Marketing, issued a statement
“acknowledging the period of rapid change in order to ensure our long-term
viability” and does not believe that “the SEIU is the right long-term solution for Chase
Brexton.” No mention was made of the
five fired workers in the statement.
Jill Crank, Assistant Medical
Director and Nurse Practitioner, was one of the fired five and the provider for many in the crowd. They gave her as well as Catherine Fowler, another fired manager, a rousing ovation at the end of the rally.
“The act of firing
five compassionate and dedicated employees singlehandedly destroyed the trust
between Chase Brexton and the community it serves,” she said. “It sent a signal
that employees are disposable and replaceable, as well as the relationships
they built with their patients and community organizations.”
She added, “Dedication to the
LGBT community and Chase Brexton’s mission means recognizing the talent and
energy of the people who work on the ground level, and respecting their voices
at the workplace negotiating table. After all, it is these individuals who have
earned the trust of our patients, one by one.”
The Baltimore Transgender
Alliance, led by executive director Ava Pipitone, summed up the sentiments of
the protesters in a statement.
“On August 19th, the Baltimore Transgender Alliance and
our allies are joining forces to rally in support of the Chase Brexton workers’
right to unionize. The rally’s purpose is twofold: both to lift the voices of
Chase Brexton employees and the communities that Chase Brexton serves, and to
stand united as transgender residents of Baltimore and demand the services we
“Chase Brexton is one of the only places where low-income transgender and
non-binary people in Maryland can access care. However, for two years, CEO
Richard Larison’s policies have undermined worker’s efforts. As we face
systemic injustice based on intersections of race, class, gender, and
sexuality, we need and deserve quality care.
“In response, Chase Brexton workers are unionizing. After Larison became aware
of these efforts to organize, he and his administration laid off five
employees. Some of these workers have decades of experience working with
clients; they are integral to HIV care and essential to transgender care. Many
people lost providers that they had been with for years, and that trust is not
|Photo: Bob Ford|
“This is an attack on the workers of
Chase Brexton, and that is an attack on our community. Firings and policy
changes in care for marginalized communities replicates the very systems of
oppression Chase Brexton was founded to address. This rally follows the
Department of Justice’s damning report on the Baltimore Police Department’s
systemic dehumanization and harassment of transgender persons, especially
transgender women of color. We have to fight for what seems a given to
non-marginalized communities. We are fighting and standing strong with those
who support us.
A vote for those eligible
employees to join the union will take place August 25.
“We demand that Larison be removed as CEO. We demand that the “fired five” are
rehired. We demand that Chase Brexton workers are given their right to
unionize. We demand that Chase Brexton’s policies prioritize the quality of
care that we deserve.”
Throughout the rally, dozens of cars and trucks driving up Charles Street
honked their horns in support of the protesters. In addition, a letter signed by ten Maryland
legislators denouncing the firings was delivered to Larison and his management
team just prior to the rally.
The next day, Kate Sumiko Bruce
told supporters on Facebook, “Yesterday was not the end. We're gonna keep
fighting until the protest demands are met.”
a vote of 87 to 9 on Aug.25, employees of Chase Brexton Health Care voted to join the
1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East labor union.
attempt to postpone the vote by Chase Brexton management was unsuccessful as
the National Labor Relations Board did not act on a request to investigate
charges by the health care nonprofit that management and supervisors along with
the union had interfered with the election process.
“I am overwhelmed, crying tears of joy,” said Kate Sumiko
Bruce, who is a patient at Chase Brexton and who helped organize
the protest against Chase Brexton last Friday.
“I look forward to positive changes for
staff and patients and hope for rehiring of those fired.”