No Shame: Hospital Workers Robbed in Court


Photo: Closed Hospital in Aliquippa

Injustice In Aliquippa:
New Labor Battle
Over Hospital Shutdown

By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue

Hundreds of fired hospital workers are awakening the historic spirit of class struggle in Beaver County, as they confront an effort by heath industry financiers and a bankruptcy court to steal their wages after destroying their jobs.

That was the message made loud and clear at a rally of over 100 Commonwealth Medical Center workers and their allies at the Serbian Club on a snowy afternoon, January 9, in Aliquippa, Pa. The members of SEIU Local 1199 are organizing for further action at the US Bankruptcy court in downtown Pittsburgh on Jan.27, as well as at the offices of Bridge Finance Group in Chicago.

On Dec. 31 the bankruptcy court excluded some 250 workers from receiving their last two weeks wages and, at the same time, allowed a payout for executive salaries and ‘critical employees,’ like outside security firms. Not only were workers stripped of their jobs two weeks before Christmas, they were also stripped of paychecks due them for work performed, and health insurance and any benefits coming from the WARN Act for layoffs without advance notice.

‘They had the nerve to pay the bosses who created the mess, running the hospital into the ground, but not the workers who kept it alive,’ said Neil Bisno, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania. “It is a travesty, and an outrage, and we won’t stand for it.”

One reason for the sharp rebuke of the court is the nature of both Aliquippa and its hospital. Commonwealth Medical Center took over Aliquippa Community Hospital only a year ago, when the nonprofit health care provider was in dire financial straits. The hospital was initially a gift to the Aliquippa area from Local 1211 of the United Steelworkers of America, one of the larger and more militant locals during the heyday of the steel industry in the upper Ohio Valley. It always provided decent care for working families throughout Beaver County’s South Side. But when capital and jobs were sent overseas to low wage countries in the 1980s, the mills were shut down, leaving the area with large numbers of low-income unemployed with few resources. The hospital continued to provide services, but fell on hard times itself.

“The workers are due their wages, and Aliquippa is due justice,” said Rev. Donald Green, who opened the rally, representing Jobs with Justice, the nationwide labor-community coalition network. “We’re tired of being abandoned, stressed even further in our severely distressed neighborhoods.”

One by one, hospital workers, mostly women, took the microphone and told their stories. “This was a great hardship for my family,’ said Erin Bradovich, ‘We shouldn’t have to fight like this for what’s rightfully ours. We survived this Christmas because I have a very large family, and that’s what you are. I’m proud to have SEIU standing here with us.”

Sharon Smith, another worker, denounced Commonwealth Medical bitterly: “They broke all their promises; we’re supposed to survive now on what ‘trickles down,’ well why can’t they survive on what ‘trickles up?”

Johnny Tilman, Director of Quality at CMC, a worker there, but not in the union, said “Aliquippa is working-class family, and they betrayed us. We put our hearts into this work, and what did they do for us? Nothing.”

Every worker focused on the plight of the wider community, as well as their own difficulties. Joe Spanik, a Beaver County Commissioner with deep roots in the area’s labor movement, declared: “More than 30,000 people have depended on this hospital in this part of the county. The other nearby hospitals are across the river, and everyone here knows the state of our infrastructure. What happens if the bridge is closed and there’s an emergency? We didn’t have to be here, in this situation, but how can you justify paying those who broke this system by stealing the wages of those who kept in going? We won’t justify it, and this is not over yet.”

As the workers cheered Spanik, Bisno reminded them, “This is one of the reasons why it’s important to elect people from the labor movement to public office.” This SEIU leader then invited several other local politicians or their representatives to speak, calling them his ‘political ammunition.’

“I’m here to show my support,” said Rob Matzie, State Rep. (D). from the 16th District, which includes Aliquippa. “First of all, it needs to be said that this hospital’s problems were in no way the fault of the caregivers, no way. Next, this goes deeper than Democrats and Republicans, this goes to what’s right and what’s wrong, and those who made these decisions are simply wrong.” Representatives from the offices on Congressman Jason Altmire (D-4th CD), US Senator Bob Casey, and GOP State Rep Jim Christiana (15th District) also made supportive statements.

National AFL-CIO State Director for PA, Frank Synder, linked several threads of the rally together. He noted the presence of representatives of several unions at the rally, and their unity:

“We understand the labor movement here in Beaver County. We know why treating these workers unfairly is wrong. It’s not just that this hospital was a gift to the county from the steelworkers, that unlike these hospital owners, they wanted to give something back. It’s not that workers elsewhere don’t share our problems. It’s that in an important way, it all started here, in 1937, when the steelworkers took J&L steel all the way to the Supreme Court, and finally won, boosting the organizing of unions everywhere. That was our gift to the whole country. So the 13 million AFL-CIO members across the country, and the one million across the state, we’ll stand with you. We’ve got your back. We have to turn this around.”

At the close of the rally, Neil Bisno summed up the tasks ahead in four points: first, to carry on the legal battle to win for the workers what’s due to them; second, to continue the publicity campaign to mobilize public pressure; third, to support the immediate needs of the workers, seeking benefits and new employment.

“But fourth and last, we want to see a rebirth. This is a fine facility, and it’s needed. There has to be a way to reopen health care services here. We just have to find it.”

5 thoughts on “No Shame: Hospital Workers Robbed in Court”

  1. I’ve lost jobs from shutdowns and been laid off, but never have I had my pay stolen. This is outrageous and cannot be allowed to stand. I think Progressive Democrats should help organize to fight this attack on workers in Beaver County.

  2. Top executives clearly have no shame and no sense of connectedness to their communities — somehow they feel entitled to obscene riches even while their workers are enduring hardships. However, to have the courts go along with stealing the worker’s pay and putting it in the executive’s pockets is truly shocking. Somehow we as a society seem to have forgotten that all of our economic well-being depends upon people who actually sweep the floors and drive the trucks and care for patients — and that the corporations are supposed to be for OUR benefit, not the other way around. We need to get rid of the insane notion that corporations should have the same legal rights as human beings, including “free speech” which translates into buying legislators and judges. And then results in travesties such as this in which we rob the workers to enrich the bosses.

  3. I agree with both posts above. I come from a somewhat different background, but I have had to contend with limited term jobs early in my career in teaching and some research. Never was money stolen from me.
    I agree that we should try to do something here that impacts Beaver County directly. We should support the hospital workers as best we can.
    But we should also rethink this idea that corporations are people. Rethink is too mild a term. Where did this idea come from anyhow? Let’s establish or maintain contact with others as is appropriate to challenge and question this notion of the corporate person.
    The last two sentences of the second post set a compelling frame. They challenge me to get a better grip in many ways.

  4. Hats off to you Barry! Especially with your last two sentences. You nailed that one!!!
    These workers deserve their pay, regardless.
    I have a question for everyone out there, if someone robs a bank, how much prison time do they get? It seems they get more time for robbing a bank then murder. Aren’t the courts just as guilty as the criminal robbing a bank? How much time do you think they will get? They are robbing people who earned their money. And the Medical Center didn’t help much by buying the Aliquippa Hospital then selling it to The Commenwealth. Or however they did it.
    This reminds me of iminent domain. If the courts need your property to put in a sewage line or to build a parking lot and you won’t sale, they’ll just take it, no matter what. This spells out Robbery to me.
    And as for freedom of speech, there is no such thing as that anymore. It’s like when you tell the truth about something you are cut off at the knees. If it’s not what they want to hear, then it isn’t heard.
    We as a people have to start changing some of these rules that the courts bestow upon us, that have been on the books for centuries. It’s time to change the rules to suit the people, not the rich or the courts. Do I hear any objects on that concept?
    The rich keep getting richer and the poorer keep getting poorer.
    Where is their trillions of dollars of bailout that we are paying for? Ah yeah, I know, the fat cats from Wall Street have it, and they can’t even pay employees for a lousy two weeks of services that they dedicated their lives to!
    I have to stop here. I am behind the employees of the Aliquippa hospital one hundred percent.

  5. Hi this is Erin Bradovich the dedicated former employee of Commonwealth Medical Center Inc. and I just want to say Merry Christmas to all the other former Employees of CMC that I considered my extended family and miss so much. There still is no resolution to this scandalous, indecency brought upon us by the greedy former executives of CMC. Even today which is December 18, 2009 I know for a fact that not one single dedicated employee who was let go from that hospital where we all worked so hard to keep open and available to serve the needs of the public, even now 1 year later, still have not received our paychecks that we worked so diligently for. Just ask my family, my mom, my sisters and my neighbors who had to sit with my 3 young daughters while I faithfully worked sometimes mandatory 12-16 hour shifts in the end how much I loved my job. I really don’t mean to sound regretful, because I really loved my job, and my work there changed my life, but while I was hard at work like all the other faithful employees striving to serve the community of Aliquippa and their medical needs, my children were at friends and relatives homes while mommy was out EARNING a living and had I known that there was going to be no compensation for the time that I / WE devoted to the employers who have deceived us all, then I would gratefully had been home spending Quality time with my girls, making memories especially at Christmas Time. Long story short then: CMC you not only robbed me and all of your other former employees of our earned paychecks but you have stolen away precious time i could have shared with my children. How can you sleep at night. Here’s your opportunity to make it right – better late than never huh- all I want THIS Christmas is the paycheck I earned LAST Christmas. Oh and my New Year’s Resolution is never give up the fight for justice — Slavery was abolished in 1865. My fellow citizens of AMERICA, and to my extended family of former co-workers and friends Stay Strong in these tough economic times I miss you all. Merry Christmas to you, Erin Bradovich and her Family

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