70 frontline workers at a Tennessee school were laid off. Now legislators are rallying for them.

Demonstrators protest against the layoffs of 70 UTHSC frontline facilities workers in Memphis, Tenn., on Friday, March 12, 2021.The University Of Tennessee Health Science Center Layouts

  • 70 frontline workers were abruptly laid off from University of Tennessee Health Science Center in March.
  • Now, local lawmakers are calling for their roles and pay to be reinstated.
  • Insider spoke to two laid off workers about their experiences, and what the layoffs meant for them.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

On his 20th anniversary of working at University of Tennessee Health Science Center, electrician Tony Patton was called in to a meeting.

That’s when he found out that he was one of 70 frontline facilities workers being laid off.

Patton had heard whispers about layoffs about a week before. Carpenter Michael Garrett said he had heard about potential layoffs the Monday before they came – but administrators said they were just rumors.

Then on March 12, workers were brought into a room and given letters that told them to turn in their keys, badges, and anything else pertaining to the university, as Laura Testino at the Memphis Commercial Appeal first reported. They were told that their positions were eliminated.

But Patton fought back with the help of his union, Communications Workers of America. The UTHSC’s union push is part of a broader trend towards revitalized labor organizing across the country. After decades of diminished union power increased income inequality, essential workers in hospitals and warehouses have been fighting for their safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tony Patton
Tony Patton, one of the workers laid off.

Patton and the UTHSC union’s effort also follows Amazon workers’ historic union vote in Bessemer, Alabama. Although that vote failed to gain the number of votes needed to form a union, it could still pave the way for other organizing groups.

“The most important thing to me is making sure that my family and my home is taken care of,” Patton said. “And how could I do it if I don’t have employment and don’t have the money coming in that I need?”

Workers were told 17 new positions had been posted, which, according to the Commercial Appeal, could be applied for right away. Garrett, who had worked at the school for 20 years and hoped to work there until his retirement, said that 12 new positions with the same job description and duties as his were posted after his layoff.

For Patton, who worked as an electrician, the university didn’t list anything that would match his skills.

“When I went on there and looked, none of the positions say electrician,” Patton said. “So how am I getting my job back if y’all ain’t got no position for me?”

Local legislators are offering up their support

Now, the entire state legislative caucus for Memphis is sending a letter expressing concerns over the layoffs. They’re urging the school to reverse the layoffs and hire back the workers at their prior seniority and pay levels.

“These layoffs would devastate the workers they affect, costing whole families their income and health insurance. They are the workers who helped ensure UTHSC continued to function through the pandemic,” the legislators wrote. “They made possible the vaccine trials and other key functions of UTHSC to our community and have enabled the institution’s strong financial position and recent growth, which remains steady despite the pandemic.”

The University of Tennessee received more than $9 million in federal aid at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The US approved a $14 billion bailout for colleges and universities in March 2020 as they closed doors and scrambled to adapt to distanced learning. Yet many universities opened for in-person learning in the fall, when COVID-19 cases had begun to surge and vaccines had not been approved.

Analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The New York Times indicated college reopenings may have led to an increase in COVID-19 outbreaks in the area.

The University of Tennessee had to quarantine thousands of students and staff by September 2020.

The layoffs hit the school’s frontline workers

Both Patton and Garrett had been working in person, like other frontline workers around the country. Patton said his family worried about him going in.

“I explained to them, I said I still have a job to do, even though this is going on,” Patton said. “But I’m going to take the precautions that I have to take.”

Patton said that, since his layoff, the only time he’s returned to campus has been to protest the layoffs with his union, United Campus Workers.

Demonstrators protest against the layouts of seventy UTHSC frontline facilities workers in Memphis, Tenn., on Friday, March 12, 2021.

Patton also noted that the vast majority of workers laid off – by his count, 60 of the 70 – were Black.

Throughout the pandemic, Black workers have been disproportionately impacted and unemployed, partly because Black people were overrepresented in front-line jobs during COVID-19.

Following the disparate impact COVID-19 had on Black Americans and ongoing police killings of unarmed Black people, organizations like the University of Tennessee made a commitment to racial equality.

“We all need to join together to carry the torch of safety, dignity, respect, and human rights for everyone,” University of Tennessee Chancellor Donde Plowman said in a memo on May 30.

Daniel Dassow at The Daily Beacon reported that UCW president and lecturer Anne Langendorfer said that the layoff was “racist.”

“This is a predominantly Black workforce in a majority Black city and it’s currently the only group of workers targeted for a layoff,” Langendorfer reportedly said.

Right now, the future is uncertain

The workers who were laid off will be paid through June 31, and are currently still able to get their health insurance through the university, although Garrett isn’t sure when that will end. Patton said that his wife is on both his dental and medical insurance.

“You don’t know how you’re going to pay your bills. I just went and bought a new car,” Garrett said. He added: “I got a daughter who’s 19 going to college, and I don’t know how I’m going to pay my child support.”

Hannah Grabenstein at nonprofit newsroom MLK50 reported that UTHSC received almost a million dollars in CARES Act funding, with half of it earmarked for grants to students. Per a compliance letter from the school, all of that grant money had been doled out – along with an additional $99,039 from the rest of the school’s pot.

“I’m trying to get over it, but it’s hard to get over,” Patton said. “After 20 years you just up and let a person go.”

UTHSC did not respond to a request for comment.

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A restaurant worker was stabbed by a man who refused to wear a mask, the latest customer-employee confrontation since Texas lifted its mask mandate

Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box restaurant.

  • A customer stabbed a restaurant worker multiple times after being asked to wear a mask.
  • The League City Police Department issued an arrest warrant for the man.
  • Many people have refused to wear masks at stores and restaurants since the mandate was lifted in Texas.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A restaurant manager was stabbed multiple times by a customer who refused to wear a mask on Wednesday at a Jack in the Box restaurant just outside of Houston.

The League City Police Department has issued an arrest warrant for the man.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the mask mandate would no longer be in place as of March 10. His decision came just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned against reopening states too soon. Businesses can set their own mask and social-distancing requirements and many companies have said they will continue to require customers and employees to wear masks, even though it is no longer required by the state.

Since the mask mandate was lifted, there have been multiple reports of customers refusing to adhere to store policies. As a result, many frontline workers are forced to impose corporate rules without the support of the state government.

The League City Police Chief Gary Ratliff said in a press release that the manager was admitted to the hospital and has since been released.

“All I would ask is that people respect the opinions and the policies of these businesses,” Ratliff said. “You can refuse to do business at those locations, or whatever it is you choose to do, but there’s no reason to resort to aggressive behavior like this.”

Leading up to the altercation at the Jack in the Box restaurant, the man was told he had to wear a mask in order to enter the restaurant or could use the drive-thru without a mask. The maskless man filmed the incident and accused the restaurant manager of not wanting to serve him because he was homeless.

Moments later, the man stabbed the manager multiple times in the torso after the worker turned away, according to Ratliff. The police department has since identified the man.

Last week, a woman was arrested in Galveston for refusing to wear a mask.

In March, workers at the Houston-based Mexican restaurant, Picos, said diners threatened to report them to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for requiring people at the diner to wear masks.

After Abbott’s announcement, a maskless Trader Joe’s customer accused the grocer of violating state laws by asking him to wear a mask in the store.

Multiple Texas officials have called Abbott to account for what they said was an “irresponsible action” and what President Joe Biden deemed a “big mistake.”

The state still has over 2.75 million cases and over 47,000 reported deaths, according to The New York Times.

Texas workers are now faced with the same difficulties presented at the beginning of the pandemic when people protested and boycotted stores for requiring masks and social distancing.

Many encounters early on during the pandemic led to instances of violence, where workers were shot or assaulted for asking customers to adhere to store policies by wearing a mask.

Read the original article on Business Insider

An Arizona ER doctor who was fired for posting about COVID-19 on Twitter says healthcare workers need more protections

Gilman, an Iraq War veteran, has been a very vocal figure throughout the pandemic.

  • An emergency-medicine doctor in Arizona said he was fired from his position at Yuma Regional Medical Center over posts he made on social media about the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Dr. Cleavon Gilman, an Iraq War veteran, was dismissed from his job after tweeting about Arizona running low on available ICU beds.
  • He told Business Insider doctors everywhere are afraid to speak out about their experiences during the pandemic for fear of retribution, and that healthcare workers generally need more protections.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

An emergency-medicine doctor in Arizona said he was fired from his position at Yuma Regional Medical Center over posts he made on social media about the COVID-19 pandemic.

In viral tweets from November 22, Dr. Cleavon Gilman wrote that, when he arrived at work that day, he learned there were no available ICU beds left in Arizona. He also tagged Gov. Doug Ducey in the thread and asked, “what are you going to do?”

Gilman told Business Insider that the next day he was asked not to return to the hospital and that the staffing agency he works for told him it was due to his tweets.

“It’s just like a slap in the face,” he said. “America needs ER doctors, and here you have a champion for the people who is being side-lined when his services are needed on the front lines.”

Gilman, an Iraq War veteran, has been a very vocal figure throughout the pandemic. He has been featured in major news publications, including Business Insider, speaking about the experience of healthcare workers during this time.

After working in New York City during the initial COVID-19 surge last spring, he moved to Yuma, Arizona in the summer to work at the only hospital in the area. He said after he was dismissed, he never heard directly from anyone at the hospital about the decision.

“It’s an insult when you move your whole family to a place,” he said, “and you get a call one day that you can’t return back to work.”

Yuma Regional Medical Center did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Gilman said his tweets were not about the hospital, but about the surge in Arizona and what he describes as the war-like experiences frontline workers are currently facing amid the pandemic. He said his goal was to prompt change.

“My whole point is to target policy. We need to mandate masks, close indoor dining,” he said. “We need to take a hardline approach because cases are going up everyday in Arizona and the hospitals are at capacity.”

He also said the general public deserves to hear the truth directly from healthcare workers.

But doctors across the country are afraid to speak out about their experiences with COVID-19, Gilman said. He said many are being suppressed by their hospitals and are being silenced out of fear of retribution.

“We need to be protected as healthcare providers,” he said. “This cannot be the standard for which ER doctors are terminated.”

The American Academy of Emergency Medicine has been a proponent of increasing protections as well. The nonprofit association worked closely with lawmakers to introduce a bipartisan bill that would protect the due process rights of emergency physicians.

The bill is meant to provide protection to doctors who are not directly employed by the hospitals they are working at but by physician staffing companies, an increasingly common situation.

“Unfortunately, federal law has not been updated to reflect these changes in the industry and due process rights are not guaranteed to physicians who are not directly employed by the hospital,” Reps. Roger Marshall and Raul Ruiz, cosponsors of the bill, said in a statement earlier this year.

They said the legislation would protect ER physicians who are employed by a third-party contractor or company.

Gilman said, after what has happened to him, it is clear the bill is sorely needed for medical professionals across disciplines.

“I would advise all specialties to also try to pass similar legislation as well,” he said. “I can’t be an Iraq War veteran, ER doctor, on the frontlines of the pandemic where 3,000 people are dying a day, and getting fired over a tweet about ICU beds.”

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