Back in August, the Medical University of South Carolina Board of Trustees passed a resolution expressing regret for the “grave mistakes of the past.”
They were talking about the 1969 hospital strike, when hundreds of workers — most of them black — walked off the job because they were being paid 20 percent less than the federal minimum wage.
The state sicced the National Guard on these peaceful protesters, set up laughably stringent rules for picketing and arrested a lot of them. This went on for 100 days before the hospital backed down, raised everyone’s pay and set up a grievance process for black workers.
The resolution was a nice gesture, but apparently a hollow one.
On Sunday, the Board of Trustees met via conference call — save for Dr. Harold Jablon, who had the guts to actually show up — to adopt “rules of decorum” for upcoming meetings that were, in a word, ridiculous.
Hiding behind AT&T for a hastily called meeting when many folks were still in church, the board set rules that no one could make “irrelevant, repetitive, overly long comments” and “shall not approach the board.”
Why? Well, because the Healthcare Workers United group has shown up for meetings holding signs asking for higher wages, a better grievance process and more diversity at MUSC.
Talk about echoes of 1969.
The final straw came when one of these people had the temerity to speak up at a board meeting and say that he didn’t think the board was listening.
And then they went and proved him right.
Imagine what would happen if a city or county council tried such an asinine thing as silencing the public.
There would be a revolt.
At Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s first City Council meeting, a man stood up and warned him not to let the “devils” (and the “Jews”) drive him to disgrace.
That’s pretty crazy stuff. And even though the City Council has its own rules of decorum against profanity, they let the man talk. You know, First Amendment rights and all.
If the MUSC board had heard such rhetoric, and they haven’t, they probably would have recalled the National Guard and hidden under a table.
Trouble is, the MUSC board is a public body, too — like it or not. Trying to skirt open meetings laws, as they did last week (and have before), and trying to shut down the voice of the people is exactly the sort of stuff that can give your institution a bad reputation.
As can mistaking the cautionary quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — “A riot is the language of the unheard” — as a call for violent protests in Charleston.
Already, this tin-ear approach has drawn the attention of the Charleston County legislative delegation — which, incidentally, appoints most of the trustees.
“This is America,” says state Rep. Wendell Gilliard, “and we don’t need any Neanderthal rules from the 1960s.”
Yes, that was a reference to the hospital strike. And Gilliard says he will invite the Board of Trustees to a delegation meeting to explain exactly what in the world they think they’re doing.
Good for him.
MUSC is a fine hospital that does a lot of good work in this community.
As Gilliard notes, the Medical University has an outstanding staff from the doctors to the janitors. There are a lot of good people at the hospital doing important work.
It’s a gem of the community.
But unfortunately this sort of foolishness can overshadow all of that.
MUSC has set up a Strategic Plan for Diversity and hosts regular round table meetings to address the problems faced by the Healthcare Workers United and others.
Some hospital officials say the process has been frustrating because attendance has been spotty and, when they do show, many people don’t exactly open up for the frank discussion that’s needed.
That’s unfortunate, but the scars of history heal slowly.
That does not give the Board of Trustees the right to flout the law or pass rules prohibiting residents from having contact with a public body. It looks elitist and completely out of touch with reality.
And it’s wrong.
Gilliard hopes the trustees will back off these draconian tactics and remember the hospital strike and the good work of people like Mary Moultrie.
She organized the strike and it was not just about money (although that was enough). Mainly, Moultrie wanted a little dignity and respect for her and her co-workers.
The board obviously thinks it deserves nothing less. Maybe so, but the difference is Moultrie was a hero and understood something that apparently the trustees don’t.
Dignity and respect is a two-way street.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com.