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Layoff help lacks clarity

D.C. general workers say questions are unanswered

(Published June 4, 2001)

MARY RECHICHAR

Staff Writer

Employees of D.C. General Hospital say city officials are giving them inadequate information to help them plan their futures after their jobs are eliminated in July as part of the plan-in-progress to privatize the city’s public health care system.

"Every question we ask, they tell us, ‘We’ll get back to you,’" said Dennis Cain, a maintenance technician at the hospital who testified May 31 during a city council hearing.

Cain complained to council members that responses like that are more confusing than helpful.

"The transitional team is full of deception and lies," he said. "We get no answers."

Conflicting testimony was presented at the hearing by city officials who work for Mayor Anthony A. Williams and hospital employees who are facing termination of their city jobs.

Gregory Irish, director of the Department of Employment Services, and Milou Carolan, director of the Office of Personnel, attempted to assure council members that all possible actions have been taken to ensure job placements for the 1,600-plus hospital employees who will be jobless when the hospital is shut down. They said job fairs are being held and severance packages are being prepared.

Carolan testified that employees will receive severance pay even if they accept another job offer, as long as they do not leave before their job is eliminated.

Cain charged during the hearing that D.C. General employees were not given such information and that it wasn’t true anyway.

"By resigning or accepting another offer, we forfeit our severance," he said employees have been told.

"The human resources division of D.C. General Hospital has hosted six seminars in the hospital auditorium to inform employees of the benefits and services available to them," Carolan said in her testimony.

Sharlene Gordon, a D.C. Nurses Association union representative, said that the seminars were not as productive as Irish and Carolan tried to portray.

"There were six different seminars with six different explanations," she said. "They were more confusing than helpful."

Gordon also said that the nursing job fair that was held was a "joke" because no one there could provide information on jobs or salaries.

City officials are promoting the job fairs, with the largest one to be held at the D.C. Armory on June 13, targeting hotels, hospitals and other private-sector employers. But neither Carolan nor Irish could say how many available positions would be brought to the fair. However, Carolan did say that many employees are eligible for the Displaced Employee Program.

"About 360 positions are intended to be announced," she said.

The Department of Labor has provided the city with an $876,573 grant to assist with job placements. Irish said that close to $1 million of the $1.8 million budget to help D.C. General workers will be spent on stipends and tuition for re-training.

Vanessa Dixon, an organizer for the Committee of Interns and Residents at D.C. General, said she is concerned about Howard University medical school interns at D.C. General Hospital who must now find another residency to complete their education.

"Mayor Williams failed to plan and factor in the importance of resident positions," she said.

The residents and interns must leave by June 25 to secure positions elsewhere, Dixon said, and if they can’t finish their residencies, they can’t continue with medical school. The intern committee is a plaintiff in a federal lawsuit filed by council members David Catania and Kevin P. Chavous to try to void the financial control board’s contract with Greater Southeast Community Hospital, which is responsible for the planned closure of D.C. General. A hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for June 8.

The medical interns "work 100 hours a week, they’re virtually indentured servants, and now they’re caught in the political crossfire of Williams’ plan to dismantle the hospital," Dixon said.

Copyright 2001, The Common Denominator