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NEW: UMass Memorial Medical Center Protesters: “Save our jobs!”

Friday, April 27, 2012

 

With a giant, inflatable rat swaying in the wind behind them, hundreds of UMass Memorial Medical Center workers took to Lincoln Square fighting to save their jobs on Friday. They shouted, hoisted signs and pumped their fists in protest of what they say are plans to outsource their jobs.

“I don’t want to lose my job. I don’t want to lose my benefits,” said Olalenwadu Lawu, a housekeeper at the hospital. “I need to provide for my family.”

The workers protested for about two hours, frequently breaking into chants like, “Save UMass!” and “Save our jobs!” At times they shouted, “What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now!” They were joined by many nurses and union representatives.

Hospital abuse

Hospital employees, most of them unionized, are in contract negotiations with administrative officials, but are enraged over what they see as corporate abuse: high-priced executives retiring with so-called golden parachutes and the wasting of millions on such things as using models in lab coats and bright blue wigs to help entice people to sign up for their bone marrow registry.

The hospital was heavily fined in February for that dubious practice. Now, say many of their employees, they are trying to save money by getting rid of valuable workers. Those directly affected include workers in labs, housekeeping, food services and technicians.

Rick Charette, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1445 (UFCW), which has about 1,500 members, said UMass Memorial leaders want to outsource the jobs to non-union employees. That would cost about 800 union workers their professions, Charette said.

“They got caught with their fingers in the cookie jar,” Charette said of hospital executives. “They are more concerned with golden parachutes than with their good, hardworking people.”

Statement released

A spokesperson for UMass Memorial Medical Center issued this statement, saying the hospital would not discuss the matter any further:

“Unfortunately, events such as these are not unexpected during contract negotiations. UMass Memorial Medical Center continues to make important changes to our business practices, including adjustments to employee benefits, in order to become more affordable for our patients, provide even better care and transform our operations in response to the shifting health care landscape. UMass Memorial is, and always will be, committed to bargaining in good faith with all of their labor partners for what is right for our employees, our patients and their families and for UMass Memorial.”

Charette said if contract negotiations do not yield what employees are seeking, things could turn nasty. The contract expires at the end of May.

“You could have something you haven’t seen in Worcester in a long time,” he said. “You’ll have labor standing shoulder to shoulder, taking on the corporate giant. And if you don’t think UMass is a corporate giant, you don’t know anything about them.”

UMass is the city’s largest employer.

Care for community

UFCW member Doug Belanger, who is also a Leicester selectman, said union members are tired of watching “top brass leave with golden parachutes, yet they won’t take care of us. We’re part of the community. We’re very concerned.”

Luz Sanchez is a surgical technician at UMass. She wore a lab coat and blue wig as a shot at the hospital’s controversial blood donor campaign and held a sign at the protest.

“I’m very upset,” she said. “For the last several years we’ve been asking for a pay raise and the hospital denies us. Then we find out that all the time they were spending money on models. It is an outrage.”

 

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