Workers at South Side clinic fight for new contract, better benefits

November 30, 2012

(WBEZ/Adriana Cardona-Maguigad)
Alivio Medical Center workers gather for a candlelight vigil to demand a new contract and better benefits.

UPDATED 12/3/2012 5:22 PM, Shannon Heffernan

After six days on strike, workers at Alivio Medical Center are returning to work. They have yet to reach an agreement, but workers believe they made enough headway with management to return to their jobs. Workers said that both the union and management made concessions on health care cost, though there aren’t any official numbers. Management also agreed to at least 7 days’ notice before any future layoffs. 

Alivio has laid off 11 workers and has not renewed a contract with its employees since the summer.

Workers said Alivio is engaging in unfair labor practices and did not give workers an agreed-upon 10-day layoff notice.

While at a candlelight protest on Thursday, clinic case manager Leda Ferrer said the layoffs are affecting patient care.

“It makes it a lot harder for one person to do the job of three which affects the patients because they have to wait longer, and don't get their phone calls answered.”

The workers complained about low wages and that Alivio proposed wage caps for employees who have been working there for a number of years.

“I been here for 14 years, if I continue to work here for 10 more years I don’t get a raise,” said Rocio Franco, a financial evaluator at one of the clinics and union member with the Service Employee International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Illinois and Indiana.

Protesters said Alivio also plans to increase the employee health insurance cost by 33 percent. And that, Franco argues, is an enormous amount of money to pay when wages are low.

Alivio Medical clinic representatives say they are almost done with the contract, but they just need to finalize the economic proposal. 

Clinic Director Carmen Velazquez said Alivo is struggling because the state of Illinois hasn’t reimbursed it $1,400,000 for patient care.

“We do not have the money, if we had the money we could do something,” she said. “We are in good faith in the process of negotiations."

She says she wants to reach an agreement with employees.

“We need to consider everything that is going to make and keep Alivio, a financially viable organization.”