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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE: Doctors gather at Lutheran Health Network's new freestanding ER at Statewood Plaza.

  • Crawford

  • Lewandowski 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 1:00 am

Crawford roots for Lutheran employees

Seeks advice from Workers' Project

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

John Crawford felt like he was crossing into enemy territory when he walked into Monday evening's Workers' Project meeting.

The city councilman, R-at large, acknowledged his conservative political views oppose those of the nonprofit, which supports labor unions.

“We're just natural enemies in many ways,” he said.

But the two have joined forces against a common enemy: anyone who keeps Lutheran Health Network employees from having a voice in their workplace. Crawford believes parent company Community Health Systems is that nemesis.

CHS on Monday spurned 10 local doctors' effort to buy the health care network, saying a legitimate, written offer was never presented. The $2.4 billion oral offer was at least $1 billion too low, CHS officials said.

Critics of CHS say it hasn't plowed local profits back into the facilities and staff. The Franklin, Tennessee-based company has owned the network's eight hospitals, clinics and other facilities for 10 years.

Crawford, a doctor who treats patients in Lutheran Health Network- and Parkview Health-owned hospitals, agrees with those workers.

As a result, he welcomes guidance from the Workers' Project on how workers can effectively express their displeasure with out-of-state corporate ownership without losing their jobs.

On Tuesday, several dozen doctors, nurses and support staff met and prayed briefly outside Lutheran Hospital, renewing their support of the stalled buyout effort.

Tom Lewandowski, the Workers' Project's director, said his nonprofit has helped other local workers improve working conditions without forming a union.

The group supports labor unions but doesn't require those seeking advice to be union members.

The Workers' Project has placed particular emphasis on helping Hispanic and Burmese workers, who tend to speak English as a second language and are sometimes unsure of their rights as U.S. workers.

Lewandowski declined to name specific employee groups that have received guidance from the Workers' Project for fear that management might retaliate against workers for attracting unwanted attention to the company.

“It's about workers feeling good about the work they do,” he said. “They want to be able to do the best job they can, and I think it's important for them to act together. Right now, it's seems obvious they feel they can't do the best job possible.”

Lewandowski said it appears the Lutheran staff's work is undervalued by the corporate owners. He supports their right to speak up.

“We can help them minimize their risk so they can have all the First Amendment rights possible,” he said. “And we can help them amplify their voices.”

sslater@jg.net