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Chase Brexton files complaint against labor union

Chase-Brexton Health Care's headquarters on Charles Street in the Mount Vernon neighborhood.
Chase-Brexton Health Care's headquarters on Charles Street in the Mount Vernon neighborhood.

The board of directors at Chase Brexton Health Care has asked the National Labor Relations Board to postpone a vote by employees seeking to join a union.

The move is the latest volley in an increasingly acrimonious labor dispute between the leadership of the chain of community health care centers and its employees and even its own supervisors. It came as part of a larger complaint by Chase Brexton's board alleging unfair labor practices and illegal interference in the election process by some of the nonprofit's supervisors, who it said were illegally encouraging formation of the union with the help of union leaders.

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The Chase Brexton board is seeking an investigation of the actions of the supervisors and the union that it says violate the the National Labor Relations Act. The unionization vote is scheduled to take place Thursday.

In an email sent to staff Monday, the board said it believes some of its managers and supervisors are encouraging employees to join the 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East labor union. The board also accused the union of illegally encouraging the push for support.

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"Chase Brexton believes that all of our employees eligible to vote in NLRB elections have the right to make an informed choice free from illegal coercion or interference," the email said. "In order to protect the rights of our employees, we have filed unfair labor practice charges with the local office of the NLRB seeking an investigation into the unauthorized acts of these supervisors, as well as the conduct of the union."

Union members said Chase Brexton was trying to stall the vote and that as of now, the election would go on as planned Thursday.

"Management will have to present evidence to have it postponed," said Brian Owens, a lead organizer with SEIU. "They just can't ask for it to be postponed."

The National Labor Relations Board could not be reached for comment late Monday.

Some Chase Brexton employees argue that being part of the union will give them more more sway with management and more say in the decision-making that affects their workplace. They have said they have seen a rapid increase in the number of patients they treat and a resulting decline in the quality of care patients are receiving because employees have been ordered to spend less time with patients.

Executives at Chase Brexton have encouraged employees not to form a union and contend that the organization can work with employees to address their concerns.

Chase Brexton opened in 1978 as a clinic for gay men. Like many community-based clinics, it has seen an influx of patients under the Affordable Care Act, which put more people on the insurance rolls. It moved its headquarters to the Monumental Life Building on Charles Street in 2013 and recently expanded its Glen Burnie location. It also has offices in Columbia, Randallstown, Easton and at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

While it is known for catering to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, Chase Brexton has been trying to position itself as a clinic that serves everyone. It served nearly 10,000 Medicaid recipients last year, according to the state health department.

"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," CEO Richard Larison said to employees in an email last week. "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."

Chase Brexton executives fired five managers last week, prompting SEIU to file a complaint with the NLRB accusing the company of trying to intimidate workers as the vote neared. The firings also led to a protest last week at Chase Brexton's headquarters and an online petition on change.org demanding the fired workers be reinstatement that has garnered more than 1,500 signatures. Several advocacy groups and local and state lawmakers also have spoken out against what they see as actions by Chase Brexton to thwart unionizing efforts.

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