From January 3 to 5 this year, the freshly unionized members of Howard Brown Health Workers United (HBHWU) staged day-long strikes at seven different Howard Brown clinic locations in the city. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an excess of government funds that LGBTQ+ -focused health system could access, but as those funds dried up, Howard Brown chose to eliminate programs and some staff positions in cost-saving measures. Workers at Howard Brown thought that the cuts were handled poorly, so they started organizing to be recognized as a union. In August 2022, 90 percent of the team voted to unionize as HBHWU.
When it came time to bargain the working contracts, Howard Brown requested that the union workers voluntarily lay off 100 of themselves amid already-understaffed conditions across the city. After the union refused to do so, management forcibly laid off 60 workers, cutting off people’s access to company software earlier than they had promised to. This compromised client care for many providers, who were not able to let their clients know that they wouldn’t be seeing them anymore. In response, Howard Brown Health Workers United mobilized a three-day strike and filed 20 different unfair labor practice charges against their employer for illegal layoffs and bad-faith bargaining.
Many of these workers are LGBTQ+ themselves and were patients of the center before being employed there. They recognize that Howard Brown provides essential services for those typically neglected by the rest of the health care system, such as low-income people, HIV+ people, and trans people. HBHWU considers its primary job now to continue shining a spotlight on the ways in which patient care has been negatively affected by layoffs at Howard Brown, which continue to happen. We applaud the union’s commitment to community care.