*This story has been updated to include comments from Mazzoni staff members and SEIU representatives.
Mazzoni Center staff members voted to form a union with SEIU Healthcare PA Wednesday.
"Today, a majority of eligible members of Mazzoni’s staff voted for a union to represent them," Mazzoni Center Interim CEO Steve Glassman said in a statement.
According to the Black & Brown Workers Collective, the vote was 51-35.
Mazzoni Medical Case Manager Michelle Lindstrom told PGN she was “overjoyed.”
“When we have brought our concerns to management, it’s usually treated as, ‘Well, this is a longstanding policy. There is nothing that can be done about it,’” Lindstrom said. “The union representing us means that our concerns will be addressed and hopefully become a more patient-centered organization.”
Prior to the decision, Glassman spoke to PGN about how the unionization will affect the relationship between management and staff.
“The union [will act] on behalf of the staff,” Glassman said. “The staff [will not be] coming into my office and working out a resolution to specific problems, which I have been doing since I’ve been here. We haven’t found one situation that I haven’t been able to resolve with the staff directly advocating and negotiating for themselves with me personally. That won’t be able to happen.”
Glassman added that he would “work cooperatively with them and work in good faith toward finding a collective bargaining agreement."
“I can’t speak for what happened prior to my tenure here but I can tell you that under my leadership, no one will ever be retaliated against,” he added.
Prior to Glassman’s appointment in July, the Mazzoni Center became the target of scrutiny due to alleged sexual misconduct from former medical director Dr. Robert Winn. Winn resigned in April and CEO Nurit Shein departed her post weeks later after Mazzoni staffers hosted a walkout protesting her allegedly covering up the Winn accusations.
Forming the union
Lindstrom said discussions about forming a union began shortly after Winn and Shein departed their posts. She said a core group of staff who organized the walkout began researching unions.
“The representatives from SEIU were definitely familiar with Mazzoni Center,” Lindstrom said. “Our concerns were primarily about staff being placed on somewhat equal footing with leadership in decision-making processes. SEIU seemed to understand that.”
Lindstrom noted that the staff who voted in favor of the union did not believe the changes in Mazzoni’s leadership would be “adequate” to “address the legacy of racism, intimidation, the lack of transparency and the lack of accountability.”
In January, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations released its findings on Gayborhood racism, recommending training on the Fair Practices Ordinance and implicit bias for Mazzoni and other nonprofits.
Lindstrom did note gains since the leadership transition.
“There is an effort to appear more transparent, an effort to talk the talk and give soundbites to media that indicate things are moving in the right direction and, to give him credit, they have revised our benefits,” Lindstrom said. “Our co-pays got cut in half. They are offering financial assistance with surgeries, with specifically trans staff members in mind. These are real gains but I think it's worth noting that it didn’t happen until there was pressure on them because of this union drive. I wonder if those changes would have been made without that.”
Glassman told PGN that Mazzoni began such internal initiatives approximately a month before staff publicly announced plans to unionize. However, the staff did not receive notification until afterward.
Sarah Fishbein, an SEIU officer working with Mazzoni, said leadership and staff will make proposals toward a bargaining committee to determine a contract.
“The hope from Mazzoni leadership that was expressed and certainly the hope that was expressed by staff is that we want this to be a positive thing,” Fishbein said. “We want this to be a step forward. This is not about having a bloody battle with the leadership here. This is a group of people here who were underserved and we have to figure out how to do right by that community. They really hope that we can go back and forth to the table but also that we can come out of here stronger.”
The right time?
While Lindstrom called the upcoming union a “great next step,” 40 percent of voters did not agree.
One Mazzoni staff member requesting anonymity told PGN that while they participated in the employee walkout, they did not think unionization was “the right fit” for Mazzoni.
“Forty percent of the agency doesn’t want this,” the staff member said. “That means people are unhappy. If people are unhappy, how does that impact how they are treating patients and clients?”
“We weathered so much in such a short amount of time and then we moved to the new building and there was really a sense of possibility in that new building,” they said about the May move to Mazzoni’s new headquarters on Bainbridge Street.
The staff member added that upon moving to the new building, they felt the staff was “all together.”
“I don’t feel that [now].”
Mazzoni’s hiring of alt-right consulting firm comes under scrutiny
Mazzoni’s unionization comes almost a month after staff discovered that Creative Solutions and Visions, a consulting firm hired to educate workers on the benefits and detriments of forming unions, had connections to alt-right groups. Mazzoni has since terminated its relationship with the firm and is now working with Senior Consultant Joe Brock from the Labor Relations Institute in the same capacity.
Creative Solutions’ social-media posts included statements such as “#MAGA Antifa finally labeled as domestic terrorist group … next up Black Lives Matter.” Additionally, the firm appeared to support the Muslim ban with the tweet “First #BUILDTHEWALL and then dream…” These posts have since been deleted.
According to Glassman, the agency hired Creative Solutions after he heard from some employees who did not want to unionize.
“We had so many people coming to me complaining about the fact that they didn’t want to be in the union, that they were being harassed and intimidated by people that were for the union and they were very unhappy with the whole process,” Glassman said. “I felt that I needed to ensure that I was properly representing the interests of all of the staff at Mazzoni Center and that we needed to make sure that facts were being disseminated to all of our staff rather than just claims or promises that were being delivered by the union.”
Philadelphia Weekly published an Aug. 25 email Glassman sent to employees in which he explained that he met with staff members who informed him about the social-media posts. He added that he spoke with owner Keith Perraino, who said his account was hacked, and noted that Mazzoni would continue to work with the firm.
Initial reports claimed that Glassman did not terminate its relationship with the firm until a week after receiving complaints from staff. According to Glasman, he heard additional complaints and then terminated the firm’s contract Monday, Aug. 28, three days after his initial email.
A Mazzoni staff member told PGN that Glassman sent an email announcing the firm’s termination Aug. 28 at 5:32 p.m.