Equitas Health on E. Long St.
Equitas Health on E. Long St.Andy Downing

Equitas Health workers vote in favor of first union contract

Following more than 18 months of negotiation, Equitas Health Workers United announced today that its members had voted to ratify a union contract.

The path to a union contract has been a long one for workers at Equitas Health, who have been engaged in talks with leadership since voting to establish a union in August 2022.

“It’s been even slower than I thought it would be,” Breann Smith, a Medical Case Manager at the Newark office, said in an early March interview with Matter News. “Some of the bargaining sessions have been fun and lighthearted and good. But a handful have been rough, where things got more argumentative.”

At the time, the members of Equitas Health Workers United, which represents more than 200 employees at 15 Equitas Health locations across Ohio, were adjusting to the news that David Ernesto Munar had been hired as the incoming CEO of Equitas Health. Prior to his hiring, Munar served for more than a decade as president and CEO of Howard Brown Health in Chicago, exiting the nonprofit in February amid ongoing negotiations with its union, which formed in 2022. Those negotiations have been tumultuous, at times, with Howard Brown Health Workers United staging multiple strikes while accusing the LGQTQ-affirming health organization of bargaining in bad faith

“Shortly after [Munar’s hiring] we started getting contacted by employees from Howard Brown, and specifically Howard Brown Workers United,” Smith said. “And they gave us an update on how their bargaining had gone with him and informed us about the layoffs … and all the tactics [Howard Brown] has used on them, which has obviously given us some pause. Still, we’re going to remain hopeful that he has turned over a new leaf when he comes here.”  

It turns out Smith and her coworkers were right to preserve this sense of hope, with Equitas Health Workers United announcing today that its members had voted to ratify a union contract, with more than 96 percent voting yes. The union contract includes a wage increase, a signing bonus, a binding grievance and arbitration process, a labor-management committee with direct participation from the Board of Trustees, and more. 

"Winning a first union contract is a critical step in building a union," Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper said in a press release. "Throughout this long and difficult process, Equitas workers on the bargaining team stayed rooted in their values by fighting for paid time off to volunteer in their communities, direct communication with their Board so they can advocate for their clients, and strong health and safety rules."

Equitas workers began organizing their union in 2021, filed for a union election in May 2022, and won their election in August 2022.

Coming into the bargaining process, Breann Smith said she knew little of unions. She wasn’t raised in a union household, describing her father as “not pro-union, actually.” And she traced the seed of Equitas Health Workers United to an offhand comment she made at a Pride festival in June 2021 – not long after the company introduced a return to office policy following nearly 18 months of pandemic-driven remote work.

“It seemed so unfair, and it was right at this time when all of these other people were starting to unionize and have their voices be respected,” Smith said. “But I made that offhand comment to someone about starting a union, and they said, ‘Yeah, we should.’ And then I messaged a few other people, and they were in. And I was like, okay, this will be easy. Turns out, it wasn’t.”

The Equitas union win is part of a post-Covid organizing surge with the Ohio Federation that includes 10 union wins since 2021, including Pickerington Public Library, CCAD, KIPP Columbus and Kaleidoscope Youth Center, among others.

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