Protesters talk to MUSC board about grievances

by Ashley Heffernan

Protesters hold up small American flags during the MUSC board of trustees meeting on Friday. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

Protesters hold up small American flags during the MUSC board of trustees meeting on Friday. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

For most of the past two years, a group known as Healthcare Workers United has protested for better treatment of workers during Medical University of South Carolina board of trustees meetings. In the past, they’ve held up signs and stood behind seated board members.

When signs were banned recently from the meetings, protesters found a different way to voice their opinions — with their clothing.

MUSC’s board adopted a decorum policy on Jan. 31 that requires all individuals to refrain from disrupting or impeding the orderly conduct of the meeting. As a result, signs and placards are now forbidden inside Colcock Hall and any other locations where the board meets.

Protesters wore their messages on their clothing since MUSC's board of trustees banned signs during their meetings. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

Protesters wore their messages on their clothing since MUSC’s board of trustees banned signs during their meetings. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

On Friday, the first board meeting after the decorum policy was approved, more than a dozen protesters showed up as usual. This time, though, they wore their messages on shirts and scarves, and they held up small American flags in silent protest.

“There’s no dress code that says you can’t have anything that says what you like on it,” said Pastor Thomas Dixon, who wore a scarf that read “Enough is enough.”

Other protesters’ shirts read “Cure institutional racism,” “MUSC, when are you going to change what’s possible? The public is waiting…” and “Black lives matter.”

The meeting also marked the first time protesters were given the opportunity to speak directly to the board.

Dixon and fellow protester Leonard Riley Jr. were appointed to the MUSC President’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, which was established in September 2014. Two MUSC board members are on the council, along with other community leaders and legislators.

Riley and Dixon spoke to the board about changes they’d like to see for employee grievances and appeals. One recommendation was for MUSC to provide employees with an attorney for legal advice when settling workplace disagreements through the grievance process.

“The playing field right now weighs heavily in favor, in the grievance process, of MUSC, and we just want to make sure that the workers themselves are treated fairly, and I’m sure that’s your concern also,” Dixon told the board.

They asked for workers to be allowed to bring a witness to initial disciplinary sessions and to have those meetings recorded. The group also wants members of the grievance panel to be nominated and elected by their peers instead of being appointed by MUSC leadership.

The board did not vote on anything pertaining to diversity and inclusion. But MUSC President Dr. David Cole said that the discussion will continue to be a standing agenda item for every future board meeting. He also reminded the group about state requirements that must be followed.

“We have, at the university level, statutes from the state of South Carolina that provide a framework for the grievance process. We have to work within that framework,” Cole said, explaining that the statutes are not an excuse but something that will have to be considered.

Hospital construction

More than $81 million of the $125 million philanthropy goal has been raised so far to build the nearly $400 million MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital.

The board voted to pursue the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development loan needed to build the hospital, which will be located on the corner of Calhoun Street and Courtenay Drive in Charleston. Approval from the State Fiscal Accountability Authority is needed, and the board is seeking a principal loan amount of no more than $325 million at an interest rate of 5.75% or less, according to the resolution.

The groundbreaking ceremony for the hospital is expected in August with a completion date in 2019.

Shawn Jenkins, CEO of Daniel Island-based software company Benefitfocus, donated $25 million to MUSC last year and received full naming rights for the hospital.

Reach staff writer Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyBHeff on Twitter.

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Ashley Heffernan

Staff Writer
Ashley Heffernan covers residential real estate, higher education, health care, hospitality, tourism, retail, financial services and the city of North Charleston for the Charleston Regional Business Journal. Reach her at 843-849-3144 or via email.