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Preservation Society Unveils 1969 Hospital Strike Marker As Much Remains Unchanged
10/9/2013 7:59:29 PM

The Preservation Society of Charleston unveiled a historic marker on the campus of the Medical University of South Carolina on October 1, 2013. Mary Moultrie (right) was in attendance for the ceremony.

By Barney Blakeney

Oct. 1 the Preservation Society of Charleston unveiled a historic marker on the campus of the Medical University of South Carolina to commemorate the Hospital Workers Strike of 1969. Forty-four years later some still think little has changed.

On March 20, 1969 Mrs. Mary Moultrie and Mrs. Naomi White led a dozen Black employees of the hospital on strike demanding better opportunities, working conditions and pay. They were fired for their efforts.

Those initial strikers eventually were joined by hundreds others from MUSC and Charleston County Memorial Hospital in what would become a 110-day movement that marked the Civil Rights Movement in Charleston. In the end, the hospital rehired al the strikers and established grievance procedures.

Mrs. Moultrie who spoke at the Oct. 1 unveiling said a lot has changed at the institution where in 1969 there were only two Black registered nurses and no Black faculty members. But a lot of the discrimination that existed in 1969 still remains, she added.

“Though there no longer is the name-calling that we were subjected to in those days, present Black employees still suffer a lot of the same things such as the inequities. While there are more Blacks in higher positions, some Blacks in the same positions as whites still are treated as inferior,” she said.

Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment (CAFE) state board Chairman Leonard Riley also says while some things have changed over the years, much has not.

“Definitely not enough has changed and in some cases, almost nothing has changed,” Riley said noting that a recent initiative by supervisors in the university’s housekeeping department attempted to force employees to put cones similar to those used to warn of wet floors in the areas where they worked so the supervisors could keep track of them.

Employees asked Riley to intervene saying the marker cones were insulting and dehumanizing. Nearly 100 percent of housekeeping employees are Black.

Labor organizers and employees at MUSC met June 8 with clergy and members of the faith community at the International Longshoremen Hall in Charleston in their continuing effort to address unfair practices they say impact them and their ability to perform their duties.

For over a year the workers have been meeting with MUSC officials to discuss ways to improve patient care, protect their own health and safety and to secure some measure of dignity on the job. Among their complaints have been pay and benefits cuts, low staffing levels, abusive supervisors and an ambiguous system of promotions that pits workers against supervisors and sometimes each other.

In December over 100 picketers descended on MUSC to participate in direct action protesting the university’s backtracking on a commitment made to 54 women required to recertify for their positions as medical office assistants and registered medical assistants, but have been denied the opportunities.

The workers were required to learn a new electronic patient records system being implemented throughout the hospital or be displaced. A group of negotiators had been working with MUSC officials since earlier in the year to co-ordinate efforts for the employees’ recertification.

The picketers were participants in the Southern Human Rights Organizers Conference held Dec. 7-9 at the Charleston International Longshoremen Association Hall.

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Submitted By: elaine Brown Submitted: 10/10/2013

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