Howard Brown Health, Union Workers Reach Tentative Contract Agreement After 1.5 Years of Negotiations

Howard Brown Health sign. (WTTW News)Howard Brown Health sign. (WTTW News)

Union workers at the largest LGBTQ+ health care provider in the Midwest have reached a milestone: a tentative agreement on their first union contract.

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It comes after about 1.5 years of negotiations, two strikes, a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board that found merit in charges of unfair labor practices, and the layoffs of 61 unionized workers — some of whom were subsequently brought back on due to an NLRB recommendation.

“It feels unreal — I think it won’t hit until we actually sign this contract,” said Josseline Almengor, who’s on the bargaining committee for Howard Brown Health Workers United.

“We are absolutely thrilled,” said Katie Metos, vice president of external relations with Howard Brown.

The Illinois Nurses Association, representing about 360 unionized employees at the health care provider, reached the tentative agreement with management Wednesday.

In November, management put forward its “last, best and final” offer, but since then, “tried to listen better” to union-represented staff. A big point for the union was a pay rate increase.

“Economics was really the meat of the sandwich that we needed to get on the same page with,” Metos said.

Management went from an average of a 4.5% pay rate increase to about a 6% increase. Metos said the increase better represents the diverse group of jobs and pay ranges within the provider. 

The tentative agreement also includes a pay scale with wage transparency for members, a new minimum wage standard at $19.23 and insurance for part-time employees.

That insurance was an issue pertinent to workers at the organization’s retail arm, The Brown Elephant. Most of the workers at the store’s three locations are part-time, meaning they’re currently not eligible for health insurance. 

“Wages were low and stagnant, with myself and co-workers holding multiple jobs to stay afloat,” said Glenn Short, who works at The Brown Elephant. “This contract will enable us to keep working at Brown Elephant without sacrificing our needs.”

For Almengor, the raise in the bilingual differential for staff is a massive win. The contract brings the differential to $1.09. It was previously just 50 cents, which she said created a barrier around sufficiently staffing bilingual staff. This differential will also now apply to bilingual staff outside of Spanish-speakers, she added.

“It’s huge for us to be able to win this differential and for people to actually get compensated for having that knowledge and using it with our patients,” Almengor said.

The agreement also includes two weeks of paid leave for gender-affirming care, bereavement leave for chosen family and protections against layoffs and changes to job descriptions.

The tentative agreement is for a three-year contract that, upon ratification, will expire on June 30, 2027.

The ratification vote begins April 29 and ends May 1.

“We will continue to make sure that Howard Brown Health is always going to be a safe place where people can get seen for who they are and get their health care needs met with the respect and dignity that every person deserves,” Almengor said.

Note: This article was updated to reflect the day the tentative agreement was reached.

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