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New York Nurses and Caregivers Avert Strike With New Contract

First Posted: Jul 23, 2014 04:08 PM EDT
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Nurses and caregivers, members of 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, have a new four-year working contract.

The deal came following early hour negotiations on Tuesday, after five months of impasse, when shop stewards for 1199 SEIU members reached a tentative agreement with the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes.  

The contact gives workers raises of 13 percent over four years through September 30, 2018. It includes employer contributions to fully fund the National Benefit Fund, and full funding for other 1199 SEIU Funds, including child care, job security and training and upgrading. Contributions to the national pension fund will remain at 11.25 percent through 2016 and then be reduced to 10 percent to cover wage increases.

"We were able to create a movement around families and family values," said George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU.

The contract protects healthcare benefits for all members without out-of-pocket expenses and creates a fair process of non-union workers at outpatient facilities to join the union. Members will have to vote to ratify the contract.

"I think we did really well," said Rosemarie Curley, a secretary at Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, New York. "This is one of the best contracts we've ever gotten and one of the hardest contracts we've ever negotiated because we had so much to lose. I'm so proud of our members. We came in not wanting to lose anything and we got wages. We didn't want to go on strike, but we were willing to if we had to. And in the end we didn't have to. This is a testament to what we can do together."

Because of negotiations with management that were slow to produce a set of concrete proposals, 95 percent of members of 1199 SEIU voted to hold a one day job strike on July 31. Union members were required to give employers a 10-day advance notice whether the strike was to happen. That was on Monday; by Tuesday the contract negotiations were resolved, and the strike of 70,000 nurses and caregivers was averted.

"Voting yes for the strike isn't just about me and my children, it's for my patients and all the working families of New York," said Francis Clarke, a certified nursing assistant at Parker Jewish nursing home in Queens. "I work with elderly patients who suffer from dementia. Because we have a union, we're able to stand up for our patients and get the staffing we need. My co-workers and I voted to make sure that other healthcare workers have the same rights so they can have good jobs and a union voice to provide the best care."

Nurses and caregivers said the five largest healthcare systems made over $21 billion in revenue in 2013, with executives compensated very generously. Nurses argued because of that employers could provide good jobs and healthcare for their workers. The average nurse's salary is $45,000 and the majority of workers are women and the majority are women of color. 

The healthcare industry is undergoing changes, with more than 35 percent of healthcare delivery moving from hospitals to outpatient settings. It is anticipated that 45,000 new outpatient jobs will be created in New York City over the next four years.  

"Inequality is out of control in our country, especially in New York, and it is becoming harder and harder for working people to stay here and thrive," said Gresham. "At the same time, the healthcare industry is transforming, and healthcare delivery is shifting from hospitals to outpatient facilities. These are the jobs of the future, and we need them to be good middle-class jobs so caregivers can provide quality care to our patients and decent lives for our families. But employers like Mount Sinai and North Shore LIJ have been opening outpatient facilities with substandard, non-union jobs which drag down wages, health benefits and standards for workers. New Yorkers don't need more dead-end jobs. We will do whatever it takes to ensure quality healthcare, economic security, and opportunity for caregivers and our communities."

The nurses and caregivers work at 109 hospitals and nursing homes in the New York State. 1199 SEIU is the largest healthcare union in the nation with 400,000 members in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, DC and Florida.

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