Militant Journalism

Workers prepare for strike at Cleveland Clinic’s only unionized hospital

Workers in SEIU 1199 protested outside Lutheran Hospital on Aug. 16 to oppose anti-union discrimination carried out at the Cleveland Clinic-owned hospital. Lutheran Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, whose workers are represented by SEIU 1199, stands alone as the only unionized hospital in the “non-profit” corporation.

The demonstration was followed by an announcement from the union that Lutheran Hospital workers will be on strike beginning Labor Day, Sept. 4, if the clinic does not concede to their demands. 

“Our demands are [about] equality and equity,” Brian Higgins, union executive board director and power plant mechanic, told Liberation News. Wearing a shirt that read “I fight demons at the Cleveland Clinic,” Higgins described the discrimination Luther Hospital workers experience when compared to their non-union counterparts at other Cleveland Clinic hospitals.

“About two years ago, the clinic gave parental and maternity leave — 12 weeks paid for — for the approximately 77,000 other caregivers in the system, yet they left us out, about 200 of us.”

In addition to unfair benefits, the clinic illegally refuses to publish average worker wages across the company. The clinic has also handed out propaganda flyers to employees, tacitly encouraging scabbing and pressuring them to oppose the strike.

Higgins says that in his 14 years working for them he has been through many contract cycles, but has never seen such vitriol from the clinic. The union has filed more than 20 unfair labor practice charges against Cleveland Clinic. Yet, in spite of more than 22 meetings, the clinic has “refused to negotiate in good faith.”

“If [workers] can’t trust the Cleveland Clinic, I don’t understand how anybody else is able to trust Cleveland Clinic with their care,” Higgins said.

The Cleveland Clinic is the largest employer in Cleveland. It has benefited financially from its designation as a non-profit, avoiding tens of millions of dollars in taxes. But despite its non-profit status, the hospital generates millions in profits in other ways, such as new constructions and partnerships with medical corporations.

From December 2022 through June 2023 alone, the clinic’s total net assets increased by $519.2 million. The clinic’s only stipulation to reaping these benefits is a loosely defined pledge to reinvest in its community.

In spite of its supposed commitment as a “non-profit” health care provider, the clinic’s increasing presence has led to worse outcomes in the communities which surround it. The main campus sits in stark juxtaposition to boarded-up houses and dilapidated storefronts mere blocks away. The main campus was built on the ruins of the once-thriving Black-owned business district on Euclid and E. 105th — the destruction of which was facilitated by the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, which owns the Cleveland Clinic, and the City of Cleveland.

The surrounding neighborhoods are still majority Black and struggle under the weight of the clinic. Over the years, the clinic and the corporations which profit off it have encroached more and more into these neighborhoods through gentrification — buying up land, displacing residents and bulldozing Black Cleveland history. Where there once were bustling neighborhoods, there now stand gleaming skywalks and the so-called “Opportunity Corridor” leading straight to the clinic.

The treatment of the majority-Black communities which surround the clinic’s main campus mirror its treatment of workers at Lutheran Hospital — most of whom are Black. The worker exploitation, racism and unchecked greed are all rooted in the clinic facilitating profit at the expense of human dignity.

The strike at Lutheran Hospital is happening amid nationwide strikes against major companies from Amazon to Starbucks to UPS to SAG-AFTRA. Unionized workers are rising up to demand the rights and respect their bosses have denied them. Unity and support for workers exercising their collective power is becoming increasingly important as corporate titans turn up the pressure on organized labor.

The SEIU 1199 strike begins at 8:00 a.m. on Sept. 4, at 1730 W. 25th St. in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. The union has stated that the strike will go on for as long as it takes to be treated fairly. We encourage all workers and community members to join SEIU 1199 on the picket line and show that all power is in the people.

Feature photo: SEIU 1199 members and their supporters protest outside Cleveland Clinic’s Lutheran Hospital. Liberation photo

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