Former Deaconess workers planning another rally Thursday

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Faced with no paychecks since April when their employer abruptly shut down amid allegations of fraud without paying them, former Deaconess Home Health workers will rally at 11:30 am on Thursday, June 6th outside the Department of Workforce Development.  While many workers have filed claims for lost wages and unemployment compensation with the DWD, payments have been delayed in part because their former employer characterized them as independent contractors rather than employees.

Dozens of former Deaconess Home Health employees rallied on May 7th in downtown Milwaukee. This, after the state suspended Medicaid payments to Deaconess due to a pending fraud investigation -- and Deaconess was shut down.

Some former employees say they have filed official wage complaints with the state -- and Deaconess clients scrambled to find alternative care.

"Deaconess stole our wages. We coming to get a paycheck and all of a sudden, poof. Like David Copperfield, it was gone," former employee Douglas Johnson said.

Johnson is among those trying to get back pay from Deaconess. Wisconsin Jobs Now organized the rally, where workers were able to file wage complaints with the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development.

"I hope that accomplishes us getting some answers and getting paid, you know," former employee Marier Mustafa said.

A spokesman with the DWD says it received about 50 complaints. The DWD is preparing to take in many more in the coming days.

"I feel a lot better. Even if it takes time to get this money, I feel a lot better that we got this support," former employee Gerald Dennis said.

Workforce Development officials say the state will investigate the wage complaints and could end up filing a lien against Deaconess to get the workers their money. However, a DWD spokesman says there is no timeline for how long this investigation could last.

Meanwhile, former Deaconess employees wait. Johnson says he is trying to be patient -- and added the rally was about more than those connected to Deaconess.

"We're here to fight. We're here to fight -- but not only for us, but for the next people to come behind us as home healthcare workers, that this doesn't happen to them," Johnson said.

The DWD set up a "Rapid Response" program for Deaconess workers -- similar to what was done for workers in Waukesha after Golden Guernsey abruptly shut down.