Health center workers demanding action after 20 employees trying to unionize get fired

BOSTON (WHDH) - Shouting in the shadow of Whittier Street Health Center, workers and union representatives gathered to demand action after 20 employees trying to unionize were fired.

About 75 employees – including doctors, nurses, therapists, dentists and nutritionists – have been working to unionize, according to workers. Twenty of them were laid off Thursday.

“Twenty workers were fired less than a week before their union election and we don’t think that was an accident,” said Dana Alas, organizing director at United Healthcare Workers East.

Brenna Cyr said she got laid off from her position as the only domestic violence coordinator at the health center. Cyr added that she could not stop thinking about her patients after receiving the news.

“All the people that have the suicidal ideation, that are scared of their abusers, trying to get restraining orders, letters of support. Their kids have been taken by DCF because of the abuse and they’re left stranded now,” Cyr said.

Some patients showed up to the health center unaware of the recent lay offs.

“I had an appointment today and due to the person that they fired, I no longer have an appointment today,” patient Adelina Docanto said.

An email sent to employees Thursday explained that Whittier was denied two grants, totaling $680,000.

“I have repeatedly expressed my desire to avoid layoffs, but this latest unexpected financial news leaves the health center with little choice,” CEO Frederica Williams wrote.

Workers told 7News that sudden layoffs like this are exactly why they wanted to unionize in the first place.

“There’s a culture of fear.” Cyr said. “We are not respected as workers here, we are shoved down, we are pushed down.”

Union officials plan to file an unfair labor practice charge with the labor board. A union vote scheduled for next week is still expected to take place.

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