Workers laid off or displaced in a recent belt-tightening move by Hennepin County Medical Center are alleging discrimination in a union lawsuit and in a petition they marched into the Minneapolis hospital Wednesday and presented to its chief executive.
A disproportionate share of laid-off or reassigned union employees were members of minorities, women or older workers, said Jennifer Munt, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSME). They include employees such as Marlon Gaston, 62, who takes pride in cleaning HCMC, Munt said.
"You couldn't find a cigarette butt anywhere around HCMC because of him" when he was assigned to clean the grounds, Munt said.
In a statement, HCMC replied that it is "confident" its process was fair and that its layoffs complied with all labor agreements and seniority requirements.
The hospital earlier this year announced layoffs of roughly 200 workers — equal to 131 full-time positions, since some workers had part-time hours — due to lean revenue and inadequate reimbursements from state and federal insurance programs.
Nearly half of HCMC's charges for hospital care are for patients covered by the Medicare and Medicaid, which state hospital leaders have long bemoaned for reimbursing at below the actual cost of care. Chief executive Dr. Jon Pryor has openly sought to increase HCMC's revenue by attracting more privately insured patients through facility upgrades such as the construction of a new downtown outpatient center.
The lawsuit and petition challenge the layoffs, but also how some workers with seniority were reassigned. Gaston wasn't laid off, for example, but lost his lead position, along with the pay that went with it. A union steward, Gaston said in an affidavit that his union status and age may have played a role. He recently had more of a supervisory role in providing supplies to cleaners, but now he is back to cleaning floors and toilets.
Sophia Christian exercised her union rights as a senior worker to "bump" to another clerical job after her position in the echocardiography lab was cut. But she argued that the new position is vastly different and that she has received no training or performance expectations. "I feel that I am being set up to fail," she wrote in her affidavit.
Layoffs involved AFSCME employees in departments such as environmental services, pharmacy and accounting, but also in other departments not represented by the union. The hospital's bioelectrics department, which maintains hospital monitors and equipment, was outsourced.
The union wants a temporary injunction against the layoffs and job transfers. A hearing in Hennepin County District Court is set for April 18.
On Wednesday, AFSCME officials and displaced workers presented their petition and met briefly with Pryor in a conference room at the hospital. The workers said they felt disrespected and Pryor replied that he had great respect for them and for the diversity of the workforce.
Pryor ended the meeting abruptly when he learned it was being posted live on Facebook. A security officer then escorted the workers out.