Students and hospital workers delivering a petition bearing 400 names to the University Hospital were threatened with arrest on Tuesday when they attempted to meet with administators without a formal appointment.
The petition, started by the Students Organized and United with Labor (SOUL), supported the 52 hospital employees who were fired last month for parking violations, many of who were contracted union members. It was co-sponsored by MeCHA, Angels of Def, the Organization of Black Students, Sista Friends, Woodlawn East Community and Neighbors, MAGIC, Wage Peace SSA, the Feminist Majority, and Queers and Associates.
The group rallied at the flagpole in front of the Administration Building on Tuesday to deliver a petition to Darlene Lewis, chief human resource officer at the Hospital. When the group of about 25 attempted to enter the Hospital from the Ellis Street entrance, they were reportedly met by hospital security.
Alex Goldenberg, a fourth-year at the College and member of SOUL, said the guard told the group he would call and ask Lewis to meet them outside. They went outside and were told they had to leave because they were protesting on private property.
"We decided to try another entrance to the hospital," Goldenberg said. "We were halfway to the human resources office when the same security guards said that everyone had to leave but one person, the one holding the petitions. This was me, so I was escorted by two security guards to Darlene Lewis's office."
Goldenberg said the petition was given to Lewis's secretary, but no official reaction to the petition has come yet from either Lewis or the Hospital.
According to John Easton, spokesman for the University Hospitals in media affairs, the petitioners did not have an appointment to see the human resources director, and they were accordingly denied entrance into the building.
He said that when the protesters began to protest inside the lobby, they were instructed to move outside.
"When they continued to block the entrance to the building, they were asked to allow people to come and go and not to be disruptive," Easton said. "Peaceful protesters are allowed on the courtyard, but they are not allowed to interfere with people who use that entrance. They then walked around to the Mitchell Hospital entrance, at which point they dispersed."
SOUL claims that its rally was successful in raising awareness about the firing of the 52 workers. Chanting "Reinstate hospital workers" at the flagpole, the group reportedly also garnered the attention of President Don Randel.
"President Don Randel walked by the gathering at the flagpole just as it began," Goldenberg said. "There were approximately 35 people at the time, and he saw our signs and heard our concerns. The demonstration raised awareness in the University community."
Jamil Barton, a first-year in the College and an organizer of the protest, said the workers' dismissal was unjust and therefore deserves to be protested. He added that the demonstration at the flagpole was an opportunity to show the solidarity of students with the hospital workers.
"According to the contract, they weren't supposed to be parking [in the lot] but the extra money should've been taken out of their salary," Barton said, "They shouldn't have been fired. The action of being terminated was far too harsh."
Dan Lichtenstein-Boris, a third-year in the College and a SOUL member, said that if his group keeps building pressure, then they might successfully help to get all 52 workers reinstated.
"What right do they have to reinstate some but not all?" Lichtenstein-Boris said.
Easton would not comment about the six workers who were rehired, but he said that the Hospital will be forthcoming in its continuing union contract talks. Meanwhile, the Hospital has no official response concerning the possibility of rehiring the rest of the terminated workers.
Ella Hereth, a fourth-year in the College and a spokeswoman for SOUL, described the Hospital as uncooperative. She credited students and Chicago residents for being supportive of the fired employees.
Hereth said it is easy for employers to fire union activists, and that if the nurses' union wins the court case, all that the hospital will have to do is rehire the workers and pay them back pay.
"In most union organizing and negotiating situations, employers fire workers," Hereth said. "It's the sad state of federal labor law. As students at the University of Chicago, we strongly believe that the U of C Hospitals should be above this and we demand that workers be treated with dignity and respect."
Hereth said SOUL will continue to advocate the cause of the fired workers. Besides gathering more names for the petition, SOUL also plans to hold another rally on March 4, which has been named National Health Care Action Day by activists across the country.
That rally will focus on rehiring the fired workers and on improved health care for students and University workers.