To Michael Zenn and the leadership of UI Health Hospital and Health Sciences System,
We are writing as the members of SEIU local 73 to express our disappointment and dismay at this hospital’s lack of commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement. On the evening of Sunday, June 7, 2020, you released an email notifying employees of the hospital’s intent to participate in a social action event with White Coats for Black Lives, during which staff would kneel for 10 minutes. We found this email to be disingenuous as your messaging was not reflective of the mission statement, vision, and goals of the White Coats for Black Lives organization, and your email did not reflect knowledge of the meaning of the chosen action of kneeling for a specific period of time. While it has come to our attention that you simply recycled the verbiage used by the College of Medicine, if you had a true commitment this cause, you would be aware that one of the explicitly stated goals of the student run organization White Coats for Black Lives is specifically to combat police brutality. Additionally, you should have been aware that the action’s length was supposed to be 8 minutes and 46 seconds to reflect the length of time that George Floyd was held down and murdered by police. Furthermore, the fact that less than 24 hours notification was provided for this intended action and that this demonstration took place at 10am while you specifically stated that “patient care should not be interrupted” is indicative that it was not your desire to have full employee participation.
Most disturbingly, while many other organizations were quick to speak out against police brutality, institutionalized racism, and racial injustice in this country following George Floyd’s murder and the civil unrest that ensued, the first communication to employees from the hospital was to state that “all staff should feel comfortable coming to work […], there has been no disruption in our clinical operations […], and we have noted a number of staff calling off work today.” This is reflective of UI Health’s repeatedly demonstrated position that profit is placed above the well-being of employees. This email titled “Safety Update from Leadership” was sent out on June 1st at 12:08 pm. That same day at 4:21 pm, COO David Loffing sent an email to advise employees that we were exempt from the citywide curfew and that public transportation would be limited. Again, no acknowledgement of the greater issue at hand or concerns voiced for the physical, emotional, or mental wellbeing of employees, only information to emphasize employees were still expected to present to work.
While the University President took a proactive stance in addressing this matter you have been near mute on the subject. Your own communication to staff on June 1 at 2:11 pm in regards to these events and this country’s history of violence and discrimination against Blacks gave no public condemnation of these behaviors, cited no particular stance that you or the hospital would be taking, or any tangible actions that we would be making as an organization. This should actually come as no surprise to your employees as UI Health has a documented history of systemic racism and discrimination through wage suppression, threats, and lack of professionalism that endangers employees and fails to hold managers accountable. This is evidenced by multiple grievances that have been filed against various managers and departments within the hospital. You stated in your email that you didn’t understand the emotional damage discrimination in any form causes, so what are you doing to educate yourself?
On Friday June 5, 2020, employees independently engaged in the White Coats for Black Lives kneeling action with no acknowledgement from hospital administration. The June 8 demonstration still was not initiated by hospital leadership but literally a piggy back action on the coat tails of the College of Medicine. In your June 1 email you stated that “what happened to George Floyd happened to all of us.” That statement in itself is offensive and tone deaf. What happened to George Floyd did not happen to you and that is likely why it is so easy for you to gloss over its importance. UI Health’s values are supposedly reflected by the UI CARE standards, which is an acronym for Compassion, Accountability, Respect, and Excellence. We claim to show compassion by striving to better understand the communities we serve, to demonstrate accountability by acting ethically in everything we do, and show respect by working collaboratively to promote the well-being of the communities we serve. Michael Zenn, through your silence and inaction you have failed to uphold the UI CARE standards and we are demanding specific actions steps on how this will be remedied in the organization at large.
SEIU Local 73 members at UI Health