More than 400 Howard Brown Health workers went on strike Tuesday, amid layoffs at the health center, which specializes in treating LGBTQ+ patients throughout the city.
The 440 workers who walked off the job Tuesday plan to strike through Thursday. The workers are represented by the Illinois Nurses Association, though the group of workers that went on strike does not include nurses who are part of a separate union group.
Howard Brown is a federally qualified health center, meaning it receives federal dollars to help patients with low incomes. It has 11 clinics on the North, South and West sides of the city. Howard Brown plans to remain open throughout the strike, seeing patients when possible and potentially rescheduling appointments when not possible. A note on the center’s website says patients may experience delays.
The union announced the strike in late December after Howard Brown leaders said they were facing a $12 million shortfall and offered buyouts to workers. The union rejected that buyout proposal, and is also accusing Howard Brown of failing to negotiate a contract in good faith and other violations of the National Labor Relations Act.
Howard Brown said in a news release Monday, one day before the strike, that it was cutting 16% of its workforce, including by laying off 64 people, giving buyouts to 15 nonunion workers, and closing 38 union and nonunion vacant positions.
Howard Brown said it also planned to reduce spending and cut leaders’ pay. The $12 million shortfall is due to changes to a federal program that requires many drugmakers to offer some medications at discounted prices to health care organizations that care for low-income and uninsured people. An end to federal COVID-19 relief funding has also led to the revenue gap, Howard Brown said.
“After looking at every option for cost-saving measures, many which we have already started to implement, we are now taking difficult but necessary actions to reduce expenses with a reduction in workforce. The goal is to minimize the impact on our employees and maintain the high-quality services that our patients expect and deserve,” said David Ernesto Munar, president and CEO of Howard Brown, in the news release. “While painful in the short-term, these cost-saving measures will help ensure Howard Brown’s ability to serve our communities for decades to come.”
Sarah Hurd, an organizer with the Illinois Nurses Association, said the union was already concerned about short staffing at the health care center before the layoffs. She said the reductions now mean an end to the center’s queer family planning program and dramatic cuts to a team that helps survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault through the legal and health care systems.
She also criticized the timing of the layoffs.
“It feels a little bit like Howard Brown stole Christmas from a lot of our workers,” Hurd said.
More to come.