MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. (WZZM) -- Dozens of protesters marched outside the Muskegon Family Care facility, which services poor and under-insured patients. A small group of former MFC employees say their jobs were eliminated and contracts not renewed because they met with a union.
"The people have a right under the law to make that decision," said Ed McNeil with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. He met with 10 MFC employees at an area restaurant on February 25.
Former diabetic health coordinator Debra Gardner attended the meeting and says she and other employees had a lot of questions, like how a union could provide protection. Four days after the meeting with the union, Gardner learned by mail Muskegon Family Care was realigning for improved workflow efficiency. "Therefore my position was being eliminated, therefore my employment was terminated," she told WZZM 13.
Former Physician's Assistant Amber Shull also attended the meeting; four days later her contract also was not renewed. "I was greeted by three security guards at the front door. Finding out later that my picture was passed around that morning to the security guards and staff, told that I was a disgruntled employee coming in and I was not allowed to walk into the facility."
McNeil says it's rare for employers to punish workers for simply meeting with his union. Even though the union doesn't represent MFC employees, it has filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board against the facility and CEO Sheila Bridges.
Employees received a notice from Bridges at the beginning of the year, in it employees are encouraged to use energy positively in 2014. The letter goes on to direct those who cannot to seek other employment.
The former employees say threats and bullying are two of the many reasons they reached out to a union. "Constant fear of who is standing over your shoulder. Who is going to be walked out next?" said Gardner. She still hopes a union will soon be in place at Muskegon Family Care. "That still is our goal to get them in here because we want our fellow co-workers to be protected."
Former employees also are concerned the board that oversees Bridges isn't publishing the times or dates of board meetings. Board President Jeff Melton was in Ohio Tuesday and told WZZM 13 he did not know how or where the meetings he runs were made public. He said the next meeting would be sometime in April. Melton added he was not aware of any employees punished for meeting with the union and he claims the facility has been reorganizing for several years, resulting in the elimination of some positions.
Bridges did not return our calls for comment.