The Jane Addams Hull House Association, a sprawling, non-profit social service agency, will close shop today after 122 years – a move that Hull House staff contends was far too abrupt, especially since it meant the immediate removal of their health care benefits.
Mark Tisdale, a volunteer coordinator at Hull House, says that a group of employees might file a complaint with the Illinois Department of Labor on behalf of the about 320 Hull House staff. Tisdale says that the office of Attorney General Lisa Madigan suggested filing the Labor Department complaint.
Also, the National Organization of Legal Service Workers Local 2320, which represents non-managerial employees at Hull House, might take its own action.
“We are discussing our legal options to get back lost payments and benefits,” says Tim Yeager, Financial Secretary/Treasurer of Local 2320.
Tisdale says that Hull House, run by a 30-member board, told staff last week they would close in March. But Hull House leadership reversed course earlier this week and informed employees they would, in fact, close today – and that the association would also file for bankruptcy.
A call to Hull House today was not returned. Board Chairman Stephen Saunders told the Chicago Tribune Wednesday that, “We have to close our doors or we would owe more people money.”
For staff, more than just the swift loss of their jobs is at stake. They are also not getting any severance pay or health care benefits, according to Tisdale and other former employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity. In fact, their health care was evidently cut off January 15.
“We have not had health care since January 15,” Tisdale says. “We were notified of this last night. People have been going to the doctor and getting medical bills they can’t pay for.”
Jane Addams and Ellen Starr founded Hull House in 1889 to help working class residents of Chicago’s Near West Side. It grew into an all-purpose service agency that in 2010 assisted 60,000 clients with everything from foster care to domestic violence counseling to job training.
Hull House employees praised the work thus far of the state’s Department of Children & Family Services and Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services in transitioning clients on short notice. Tisdale adds that they are transitioning clients to “the main players in the city in terms of social service non-profits,” including Heartland Alliance and Metropolitan Family Services.
The government funded about 90 percent of Hull House operations, though employees interviewed argue that the association should have done one last appeal to the public, using the cachet of Addams name, before shuttering.
Tisdale says he doesn’t understand the abrupt closing. “There was always financial trouble,” Tisdale says. “You don’t have enough money to solve all the world’s problems. And that was essentially our mission.”