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Rising young leaders of health-care workers’ District 1199c ousted by their national union

The National Union for Hospital and Healthcare Employees took control of the union Thursday and removed president Chris Woods from power.

Chris Woods (left), president of District 1199c, shakes hands with members after addressing his ouster outside the union hall on Locust Street in Center City.
Chris Woods (left), president of District 1199c, shakes hands with members after addressing his ouster outside the union hall on Locust Street in Center City.Read moreELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer

The leadership of District 1199c, one of the biggest unions in Philadelphia, has been removed from office by its national union, the National Union for Hospital and Healthcare Employees (NUHHCE), the deposed local leader, Chris Woods, confirmed.

NUHHCE took control of the union Thursday and stripped Woods, president of 1199c, union officers, and the executive board of their positions.

Woods said in an interview that NUHHCE took over his union because 1199c did not pay the national union the required “per capita” tax on member dues.

Woods denied any wrongdoing. He said that it’s common to be behind on per capita payments because of a “flawed system.” Sometimes employers send worker dues late, he said. Sometimes their checks bounce.

He dismissed his ouster as a political move, saying that he was targeted “because I’m young and African American and because I’m not a puppet and I speak up.”

Craig Ford, NUHHCE’s president, did not respond to requests for comment. In a statement, the union said Friday: “This administratorship is intended to rebuild the local, and make it a stronger union for local health-care workers, patients, families, and the community.” A spokesperson declined to comment further.

Woods, 36, became the top official at 1199c in 2019, replacing Henry Nicholas, a towering figure in labor and politics who held that position since 1981 and had been a fixture at the national union since the 1960s. For the last decade, Nicholas, 85, had groomed Woods as his successor. Woods was part of a crop of new, young leaders who took office in 2019.

Attempts to reach Nicholas were unsuccessful.

In January, the union made an Instagram post defending Woods and secretary-treasurer Salima Pace against what the post called “outrageous and false claims.”

“Rumors that Chris Woods and Salima Pace stole union dues are false,” the now-deleted post read.

The post said that Woods and Pace participated in an internal AFSCME hearing that found that “no union funds were missing or unaccounted for” and “no union officers unlawfully used any union funds for personal gain.” The post went on to say that certain expenses that should have been approved by the executive board were not — which the post said was not the union’s practice in the past but now would be going forward.

Pace, 36, couldn’t be reached Friday.

AFSCME did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

NUHHCE, which is based in Old City in Philadelphia, is an affiliate of AFSCME but can make decisions without AFSCME’s approval.

Local unions typically function autonomously from their national or international unions. But national unions can take control if it believes the local union is unfit to govern itself.

The Ironworkers Local 401 was put under what’s called trusteeship in 2014 after the FBI charged local leaders with racketeering and arson. But the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers did not put IBEW Local 98 under trusteeship after Local 98 leader John J. Dougherty was charged in a federal bribery and corruption case in 2019. Dougherty’s trial is ongoing.

The union, which represents hospital and nursing home employees, including low-wage workers, such as cleaners, warehouse staffers, and dietary workers, has a long legacy in Philadelphia. It was 1199c, and Nicholas’ organizing prowess, that unionized city hospitals in the early 1970s, turning low-wage hospital jobs with no benefits into ones you could raise a family on. Nicholas was a powerful political broker, whose endorsement prospective mayors and governors sought.

1199c’s power, though, has waned, as the rate of union membership has dropped nationally and as the health-care industry has consolidated, with hospitals getting acquired or shutting down. The union, for example, lost about 700 members when Hahnemann University Hospital closed in 2019.

At the end of 2019, the union represented about 9,700 workers, according to the last available record the union filed with the federal government. In the 1980s, it represented 13,000 workers.

District 1199c was in the spotlight earlier this month, when Jefferson nursing assistant Anrae James was allegedly killed by nursing assistant Stacey Hayes. Both men were 1199c members for at least a decade.

Late Friday afternoon outside the union hall in Center City, Woods addressed his ouster, flanked by his family, politicians, and other labor leaders. He said he had been a victim of harassment and slander.

”These folks have tried to break me,” he said, “but I’m here to tell you guys that they are not successful. ... This is not the end for me.”