Tell HCMC to Respect Marlon

HCMC environmental services worker Marlon Gaston
HCMC environmental services worker Marlon Gaston

For two decades, HCMC environmental services worker Marlon Gaston has been making the hospital clean and safe for patients. HCMC management has announced nearly 200 layoffs that have impacted workers even beyond the job loss. Gaston, a Local 977 steward, is nearing retirement, and AFSCME believes he’s being discriminated against due to his age and union activity. This is his story:

“When I started, the outside of the hospital was pretty dirty, a lot of trash, a lot of cigarette butts, the grass was high in spots. My job as a temporary worker was to pick up all the cigarette butts. I did an excellent job on that so they gave me the job three months in.

One day I was cleaning up. My director came toward me and said her boss – who never smiled – smiled today because when he came to work, he looked at the property and it was real clean. He had never seen it that clean before. She came to thank me for doing a good job. I felt good.

After maybe six to seven years on the job, they started really noticing my work. I was featured on a billboard in the hospital parking lot. I was mentioned in the hospital paper. I got recognized for breaking up a fight.

It’s a good job, good people, good coworkers. I’ve stayed around a long time. I didn’t think I’d be here 5 years, I ended up going on 21. I’m proud seeing the hospital change. What I liked most about the job was the people, the people were great. I loved getting up, going to work, to see them happy, working with them.

I was very proud of my work. I moved up the ladder. No matter where I worked, I made a difference. I made the hospital clean and safe for patients.

Then HCMC began doing a lot of cutting with the budget. The hospital started getting dirty. I went out and talked to (Local 977 president) Carmen Brown about how they were treating the employees. I became a union officer, a steward, and I fought for them a lot. They needed me.

One time, I was representing an employee in an investigatory meeting. The director told me I needed to wink my eye sometimes to let them know I’m just playing around, I’m not serious about the worker. I refused that. I feel too much for the employee.

With the layoffs and cuts, they disrupted our department. They’re changing the hours of the employees. That hurts a lot of women with their kids and a lot of other people with their second jobs. I’m finding a lot of young women crying. Most women told me they don’t know what to do. They’re going to have to quit their jobs. That’s another way of laying folks off, by just making them quit.

HCMC took the lead position away from me. I’m working every other weekend now, too. As lead, I was making a dollar an hour more. I was doing work more like stocking, making sure my coworkers had their supplies, making sure they had the equipment and personal protective equipment. Now I’m cleaning restrooms, keeping the lobby clean, emptying a lot of trash. They gave me a dirtier job, and one that’s physically harder. That’s what I was doing 17 years ago. I worked my way up and they put me back to square one.

As lead, I wore a red and black shirt. Managers are making fun of the fact I’m not a lead anymore. They walk past saying I’m wearing a different shirt now. The hospital is punishing me since I’ve been on TV and out marching for workers. This morning the director, he took a yellow piece of paper with this yellow stripe on it. He said, I took your stripe from you off your shirt. He just said that.

I’m 62. I’m 2 ½ years from retirement.

Do I think they are discriminating me because I’m older and an active union steward? No doubt about it.

I’m still good at what I do, I still work hard, I still make a difference. They don’t care about that. I think they think when you get to my age, they don’t need you anymore, they got all they can out of us.

It’s really heartbreaking. You care so much about the hospital. Every job assignment they gave me I tried to do the best job I could. You thought maybe it would pay off for you in the end.

The lower managers, they’re on our side. The new people that came, the new management, they don’t care about none of that. The only thing they care about is cutting the budget, overworking the people. It’s just changed a lot on that end.

Last year my wife had cancer. She passed on. We’re still grieving a little bit. I hope they can give me what I had. I just want them to treat me with dignity and respect.”