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Chase Brexton Health Care has come under heavy criticism for its recent firings of five employees amid a unionizing effort by its workers.
Chase Brexton Health Care has come under heavy criticism for its recent firings of five employees amid a unionizing effort by its workers. (Amy Davis)

Baltimore-based Chase Brexton Health Care is facing backlash for the firing of five managers amid efforts by its doctors and other medical staff to form a union.

Several advocacy groups representing the concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have issued a statement denouncing Chase Brexton for the firings and labor unrest. A petition calling for the fired workers to be reinstated was started on the petition website change.org. And The Pride Foundation of Maryland, which promotes LGBT interests, removed the company's group of community health centers from the foundation's list of safe spaces

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While Chase Brexton is increasingly serving all people, its roots are in the LGBT community, whose members wasted no time harshly criticizing the company's action.

The protests come as turmoil escalated this week when leaders of the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East filed a complaint with the federal Labor Relations Board accusing Chase Brexton of using the firings to intimidate workers seeking to organize.

Chase Brexton has declined to discuss the firings and union-organizing efforts.

The petition, started by University of Maryland law students Sam Williamson and Reagan Greenberg, also asks Chase Brexton to stop interfering with workers' rights to unionize. More than 550 people had signed the change.org petition by 7 p.m. Friday.

"Right now, CEO Richard Larison and the executive team of Chase Brexton are failing our communities," the petition said.

Williamson canceled an appointment Friday at Chase Brexton because of the recent developments. Two of Williamson's doctors have left Chase Brexton in recent months.

"It is especially heartbreaking because Chase Brexton always talks about itself as being such a great organization," Williamson said. "Why would I go somewhere that is acting so hypocritical."

Williamson and others questioned whether the board members supported the firings. Union leaders said they have sent letters or called board members but have not gotten any response.

Most of the board members did not return calls from The Baltimore Sun Friday. Board treasurer Angelinia T. Sutton referred a Sun reporter to board president Carolyn Kennedy, who did not return calls.

The letter from the LGBT groups, including FreeState Justice and the Baltimore Transgender Alliance, said Chase Brexton's actions threatens its relationship with the community.

"We are deeply concerned that the termination of key Chase Brexton staff members may result in deteriorated trust from the communities we serve," the groups said in a statement. "Since its inception, Chase Brexton has been the primary provider of health care to low-income LGBTQ Marylanders, and their staff has been an integral part of ensuring access to care for LGBTQ people and their families."

Sean Lare, who treats transgender patients through his Sean Lare Counseling and Consulting in Columbia, said Chase Brexton is one of the few places where transgender people feel comfortable going.

"This is another blow to the few providers that competently serve that community," he said.

While Chase Brexton executives have not publicly discussed the labor dispute, an email obtained by The Baltimore Sun this week sheds some light on its position. In the email, Larison encouraged workers not to join SEIU. A vote by secret ballot is scheduled for Aug. 25.

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"We believe after everyone weighs both sides and has the facts, you will agree with us that you do not need a third party to represent you, and you will vote "NO" on August 25th," Larison wrote in the email "We will get through this process together, and come out of this stronger as an organization and continue to be committed to providing quality health care for our patients."

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