Former and current employees of a local LGBT health and wellness organization voiced frustrations at a community forum Thursday.
The Office of LGBT Affairs and the Commission on LGBT Affairs hosted its second Community Conversation at Broad Street Ministry, focusing specifically on Mazzoni Center. The organization has been under the public eye in the past few months since former Medical Director Dr. Robert Winn resigned following allegations of sexual impropriety with patients. Days later, more than 60 staff members contended that former CEO Nurit Shein covered up these allegations and staged a walkout demanding her resignation. Mazzoni Center issued a statement that Shein stepped down soon after.
‘We are Mazzoni Center and we are united.”
About 15 Mazzoni staff members presented a poster stating “We are Mazzoni Center and we are united,” which was surrounded by at least 70 signatures. The employees said they are partnering with SEIU Healthcare PA to form a union “to collectively bargain a contract that is equitable and prioritizes desperately needed reforms that will enable us to provide the highest quality care for our patients and clients.” The union is “respectfully” requesting that the board of directors recognize the union and prepare to negotiate a contract “in good faith.”
Following the presentation, interim CEO Stephen Glassman publicly said he “will absolutely consider that process.”
Brett Volkman, who is involved with the unionizing efforts, spoke with PGN about what led the union to form.
“We have seen deep-rooted problems at Mazzoni Center that disgust us,” Volkman said. “That’s why we were so vocal about asking for Nurit Shein to resign. That’s why we were so vocal in pushing for Rob Winn to be pushed out. That’s why we are so vocal for the board to be reformed so it reflects the community. We are a staff that is part of the community. Management and the board don’t reflect the community and that’s unacceptable. We hope through this process that we will ensure that there are changes that need to happen. We are deeply committed to working with the community to make sure that happens.”
In addition to the unionization efforts, members of a self-made committee within Mazzoni spoke on their “need to change the historical, systemic exploitation of and the disproportionately negative impact that organizational policies and practices have had” on people of color, trans people, gender-nonconforming people and front-line staff, said Ashley Coleman.
Waliyyah Muhsin, Sonrisa Rodriguez, Iveliz Crespo and Ashley Coleman represented the organization, which formed five months ago. At least 20 Mazzoni staffers stood in solidarity with them during the presentation.
Coleman, who serves as Mazzoni’s general conference coordinator for the Trans Health Conference, and other staff members formed PRIDE — Professionals for Respect, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity. During the presentation, she noted that the group will present a plan to the board and upper-management concerning inclusion of front-line staff on hiring committees for management positions. Additionally, they will also call for a director of equity position.
“This is the direct response to a critical lack of equitable representation of POC, trans and GNC individuals in management, director, executive and board positions,” Coleman said.
Members of the committee received letters from staff members on their experiences and read them out loud, protecting their identities.
“The director of my former department, for example, has repeatedly been reported to HR for tokenizing staff, making inappropriate comments to and about staff of color, lying, disrespecting and retaliation against employees and overall for being incompetent at his job,” one letter read.
Kimberley Brown-Flint, a member of the Commission on LGBT Affairs, also received a letter from a former Mazzoni employee identified as “John.” In the letter, John contended that he began an organizational-needs assessment and his efforts “ended abruptly” as he was investigating a doctor's alleged sexual assault of patients.
“It appears that upper management understood the truths that my organizational-needs assessment would unveil and actively found ways to terminate my capacity to investigate that,” the letter read.
Glassman and members of the board frequently apologized for employees’ experiences during the event and emphasized that they would try to be transparent and make sure the community is involved with organizational processes, including the selection of the permanent CEO.
Glassman, who is expected to serve in the interim position for up to nine months, told PGN the conversation was “very helpful, productive and successful.”
“I think this was an appropriate forum to be able to discuss critical issues to the community about the Mazzoni Center and I’m grateful that we had an opportunity to participate,” Glassman said.
Coleman also spoke with PGN after the event and said Mazzoni employees are “cautiously optimistic moving forward.”
“We’ve heard a lot of promises and we are hoping that the current promises that are being given to us come to fruition,” Coleman said.