A protest ended with shoving in the offices of Bovard Auditorium on Friday, when students attempted to deliver a letter to the provost’s office on behalf of USC University Hospital workers who feel the hospital administration has engaged in union-busting tactics.
Tension has been growing at the University Hospital for the past few months, with union elections approaching. The elections have already been postponed numerous times, but are now slated for May. At the elections, 685 hospital workers will vote whether to keep their current union, switch unions or go without a union all together.
Friday’s protest was organized by members of Student Activists for a Beloved Community after several hospital workers attended an SABC meeting about a month ago and voiced concerns with USC Hospital’s hiring of the Weissman Group, an Ohio-based consulting firm with an alleged history of union-busting.
Mitchell Creem, CEO of the USC University Hospital and USC Norris Cancer Center, said the Weissman Group was hired after members of the Service Employees International Union decided to form a new union. He said the firm has been coaching administrators on how to handle discussions with employees in the weeks leading up to the union elections.
“The Weissman Group was brought in as a result of an election the employees organized themselves,” Creem said. “We have a legal obligation to make sure our employees are informed. All we’re doing is telling our employees what their options are.”
But Dinorah Williams, a labor representative with the California Nurses Association who attended Friday’s protest, said the Weissman Group has used intimidation, one-on-one meetings and false promises in an attempt to convince employees to vote non-union in May’s elections.
“[Hospital administration is] spending a lot of money on PR, on fliers, on pictures, to make it seem like they’re really there for their employees,” Williams said. “But without a union, an employee’s job is at will and can be terminated at any time without notice.”
Williams said she believes the Weissman Group was “hired to teach hospital administration how to watch us, to anticipate what our next move is, to convince nurses that they don’t need union representation.”
Williams and other hospital workers at the protest also claimed the University Hospital is spending tuition money on this endeavor.
“If you go on [the Weissman Group’s] website, you’ll see all these links to how successful they’ve been at preventing unions,” said Diane Hirsch-Garcia, a worker at the hospital who attended the protest. “Typically, these firms cost $5,000 a worker. That’s easily millions of dollars, just to keep unions out.”
The letter to the administration, which student protesters read aloud Friday, said, “[We] do not spend money, take loans and incur debts so that workers will be mistreated. Spending our money to interfere with the choices and lives of employees of USC must stop.”
But Creem said it was the hospital’s revenue, generated from the services it provides, that was footing the bill, adding, “There’s nowhere near that kind of money being spent on this consulting group.”
Norman Weissman, president and founder of the Weissman Group, also denied this allegation.
“There are a lot of things being said that are so far from the truth that I don’t even understand why they say it,” Weissman said. “There’s no millions of dollars. Not even close. There’s not tuition money going toward this. This is paid for by the hospital.”
The protest, which began at noon, ended when members from 15 different student organizations filed into Bovard Auditorium to read a letter of protest aloud in the provost’s office.
Students were asked to leave the office. At one point, Jessi Quizar, a first-year graduate student studying American studies, was shoved. Department of Public Safety officers and Associate Dean of Students Patrick Bailey arrived to speak with the students outside. They said that although it is OK for students to protest, those protests cannot interrupt university business.
Creem said he did not mind that there was a protest, but he believes it was based on false information.
“The fact that there’s a protest is fine. This is an academic environment. I’m just disappointed that this opinion comes without much fact about what is going on,” Creem said.
According to Creem, there are approximately 685 employees currently a part of SEIU, about 700 employees in the California Nurses’ Association and more than 1,200 employees not affiliated with a union at all.