Laid Off University of Chicago Workers Fighting Mad
Chicago, IL – Sherri Taylor-Kennedy was insulted and angry at her employer. “When I got here I was informed that my position had been eliminated. I had 30 minutes to gather my belongings and be escorted off the premises.” She spoke out at a protest rally Feb. 10 to 200 co-workers and supporters at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC).
Ms. Taylor-Kennedy has worked here for 14 years as a secretary. Management has announced 450 layoffs already, and hundreds more to come. These job cuts are happening even though the hospital hasn't lost any money, nor are there fewer patients. They are getting rid of workers because their stock-based endowment lost 40% of its value. They want to make up for their bad investments by cutting people.
Richard Berg, president of Teamsters Local 743, was highly critical that these cuts were made despite no financial losses in the operation of the hospital. “They're not General Motors or Ford, where sales are down. This is sheer arrogance,” he declared to cheers from the crowd.
Local 743 was joined by Service Employees International Union Local 73, the Students Organized and United for Labor and Southside Together Organized for Power (STOP), a housing group that fights University-promoted gentrification in the Woodlawn neighborhood. STOP speaker Fred Payne supported the workers, telling them they were fighting for themselves and for patients like him. In addition to cutting jobs, the hospital announced plans to turn away more poor people who come to the emergency room, and instead send them to Cook County Hospital, ten miles away. Most of the 80,000 patients that use the Emergency Room are African American.
Local 743 represents 1500 service and maintenance and clerical workers. Their union representative at UCMC, J Burger, said that many of the 450 layoffs were workers represented by Local 743. Local 73 represents trades people, including carpenters and painters, 18 of whom were given layoff notices.
The threat to these workers is very serious. Taylor-Kennedy announced, “I have $1500 rent due every month and six children to feed.”
Burger said, “We will fight until we win back these jobs and until this employer respects the workers and the residents of the surrounding community.” The workers ended their protest chanting, “Yes, We Can!” aware that President Obama's home was only a few blocks away from the University, where he had been on the faculty a few years ago.