A group of people marching down a street, holding big purple letters that spell "union."

We Won Our Union: How and Why We Unionized, Despite a Common Rule that Denies Workers with Disabilities Union Rights

I have been a housekeeper at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore for six years, and this year, workers with disabilities finally won our union after a long fight. This victory means a lot because now we actually have someone on our side, and we actually have a voice.

We wanted a union because we were being treated unfairly. Management would take a supervisor’s side over our side. They just wouldn’t listen to us. They would make up rules, and claim we were supposed to know them without being told what they were. They didn’t treat everyone fairly – especially people with disabilities.

For example, one manager would follow us around for just a short time and then claim that she’d been in the area supervising for three hours or more. She would often claim that I did not clean my areas, even though I did. She seemed to always look for something that she could say I did wrong, and many times she was believed over me, even though I did my job right.

So last year, we tried to join the 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East union that covers other workers at Sinai Hospital, but our managers said we didn’t need it because unions just take your money and don’t do anything for you. Our employer also filed a request for exemption to unionization (Case 05-RC-244319) with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), in which they claimed that we couldn’t form a union because our work relationship was rehabilitative—meaning, in other words, that they were providing a service to us while we worked for them. I’ve learned that it’s common for employers to claim a rehabilitative relationship and that this claim denies workers with disabilities their right to a union.

The NLRB ruled in our favor, saying that our employer was not providing rehabilitation to us and that we were workers who were allowed to form a union. Weeks later, we voted to unionize, and we won.

This victory means a lot because we can actually tell our story about what’s going on. Now we have someone who can help them speak up for ourselves when something is wrong.

You can already tell a difference with how we carry ourselves at work. Our union is still new, but I feel like things will really change when we get to change the rules. I’m excited to make that happen.

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