The Charleston Chronicle

MUSC Workers Want Relief, Not Apologies

  • Former Local 1099 president Mary Moultrie (second from left) and Coretta Scott King march with supporters during the MUSC Hospital Workers Strike of 1969.
By Barney Blakeney

A resolution issued last week by the board of trustees at the Medical University of South Carolina was met with disdain from some quarters in the community which said the August 14 action is disingenuous and insulting. Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson, who helped draft the resolution, however defended it as a first step among many to be taken.

“We acknowledge our past and and remember the 1969 hospital Workers’ Strike in order to improve our future. We deeply regret the discriminatory working conditions that led to the strike,” the resolution stated.

The 110-day hospital strike by Black employees brought together labor and civil rights organizations and mobilized thousands of Black residents in a movement that led to over 1,000 arrests. Though the strike resulted in only marginal concessions for Black employees, it influenced labor and political relations across the state. But today many say although the strike may have helped change MUSC.

Carolina Alliance for Fair Employment (CAFE) State Board Chairman Leonard Riley said Black workers at MUSC still face disparities in pay and representation in higher level positions in addition to other aspects of their employment. Riley said while the resolution is important, MUSC workers want relief, not apologies.

“I’m not going to say that the resolution is worthless, but those workers are screaming for relief. The Bible says we must repent and turn away from our evil ways. MUSC is saying they’re sorry, but they haven’t changed their ways,” Riley said.

“That’s a first step, but like so many other symbolic gestures in the aftermath of the murders at Emanuel AME Church, it seems disingenuous,” Riley said.

“They employ temps for jobs that are done every day like cleaning and serving. If someone is doing a job every day, why don’t they get full benefits? MUSC continues to abuse workers in our community. Black workers at MUSC still are depressed, suppressed and suffer at the hands of bully managers.

“I don’t know any worker who has asked for an apology, but they have asked for fair wages and promotions, which have been denied. Their apology is appreciated, but it’s inadequate. If they’re sorry about what happened before 1969, they should be doing something about what’s happening now,”Riley countered.

Kimpson said MUSC’s new president, Dr. David Cole reached out to him last year when Cole took over the administration. He asked what needed to be done to further progress in diversity at the institution.

In a May 2014 letter Kimpson suggested a formal apology, but he also suggested the administration address the issue of clerical workers whose jobs were eliminated due to the implementation of new technology, insure minorities receive a fair share of procurement opportunities, that the institution hire Black lobbyists and commit to and monitor its comprehensive strategic diversity enhancement plan.

“You can’t look at the apology in a vacuum,” Kimpson said. “It’s part of a plan. I feel like acknowledging what happened in the past is an important step in addressing the issues we face today. We recognize that substance has to follow symbolism. It’s slow, but we are making progress. The apology is just one step in many yet to come,” Kimpson said.

Committee On Better Racial Assurance (COBRA) CEO William ‘Bill’ Saunders said he was shocked by the resolution. “That’s something South Carolina doesn’t do - admit they did something wrong. What bothers me is people like Mary Moultrie who led the strike suffered and died before they saw justice,” he said.

Saunders said he isn’t insulted by the apology and feels it’s a good thing. He credits Kimpson for pushing the issue and making the resolution happen.

“It’s a good gesture on the part of MUSC although employees still are being mistreated. It’s important that MUSC understands we don’t want fairness in 40 years, we want fairness right now,” he said.

Officials at MUSC refused to offer further comment beyond their earlier statement and resolution.
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