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UIC: Patient Access workers stop speedup

by Joe Iosbaker |
May 8, 2009
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Woman holding "Shame on you" sign
(Fight Back! News)

Meetings of the workers from the Patient Access call center at UIC Medical Center look like the waiting room of an Orthopedics clinic. Many of the workers are wearing carpal tunnel braces or their wrists show the scars of surgery.

In a recent survey conducted of employees there, two out of three respondents stated they were either being treated for carpal tunnel, had complained of pain from repetitive motion, or had a previous condition that was aggravated from the working conditions in the department. Workers complained of a lack of ergonomic equipment.

But workers also complained of the pace of work. In March, management announced that the work load was being increased by almost double, from five completed registrations and insurance verifications per hour to eight.

Workers fought back against the increase. They held meetings to speak out against it. Union representatives were called and a meeting was demanded to express opposition to management. To emphasize quality for patients and safety in their work, workers had a t-shirt day and a ‘purple day’ (the color of SEIU).

And last week, the workers won. The old registration rate, or ‘reg rate,’ was restored.

Five workers who wished to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation by management reported that in their performance evaluations, managers stated that the goal in the department is: Five registrations per hour.

In addition, the assistant director, Paula Lagioia, reported in a staff meeting that no one is making the reg rate of eight, and five out of six employees are at the old rate.

With no fanfare or official notice, the speedup has been called off.

Health and Safety Committee Elected

Buoyed by this victory, workers are going ahead with an effort to finally deal with the health and safety issues in their workplace. Three union workers - Cynthia Halsey, Trillia Richards and Leti Rios - were elected to serve on a Health and Safety Committee to meet with management.

The need for this committee was made more urgent because of a gas leak in the building early in April. Three workers were sent to the hospital and the People’s Gas worker who came to the scene made the University sign a waiver to relieve the company from any further liability, as he characterized the situation as “dangerous,” and the building “below code.” Despite this, workers were evacuated from only part of the building, and for only a short period of time, and then everyone was sent back to work.