Blood suckers

A group of Detroit phlebotomists are crying foul after an Austrian pharmaceutical company laid them off one week before a vote on unionizing their downtown clinic. During a conference call the evening of April 3, ZLB Plasma Center notified its 32 employees phoning in from home that they were fired and that their Grand River office — one of 47 ZLB owns in the United States — was closed and locked. The company mailed the fired employees their personal belongings. Severance packages were offered based on length of service — some employees had worked there for 20 years — but the workers had to sign a form agreeing not to sue, says Annette Finks, a three-year employee of the plasma center.

Finks says the workers were talking with management about numerous complaints, including the lack of hot water, heat and proper ventilation in the building, as well as a need for proper gloves, when the firings were announced. The complaints were legitimate, she says.

“We were told we had to clean major blood spills with paper towels,” Finks says. “We were asking for better gloves, and we ended up getting some from the dollar store. Everyone in the business knows once you submerge the gloves in water or fluids, they come apart and get holes in them.”

The employees were shocked by the firings, says Julie Barton, the employees’ organizer at the International Union of Operating Engineers. Most had signed union cards shortly before getting the news. “It was a really strong campaign. There was no indication the facility was going to close,” says Barton, who’s filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. The Plasma Center drew blood from an average of 100 people a day, with sometimes as many as 180 donors coming in for compensation which averaged $25 per visit, says Finks.

Officials for the company, with national headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., did not return calls to say why the workers were fired and whether the plasma center would reopen for the throngs who utilize its cash-for-blood program. Meanwhile, Finks says, though the firings have caused incredible hardship and heartache, she and others are looking for new work. “I love phlebotomy,” says Finks. “The art of drawing blood, it is not a dead profession.”

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