Contract Expired: 1,800 Union Caregivers & Service Workers At New York's Sixth Largest Employer, URMC Plan Informational Picket Monday, November 13November 1, 2023
For immediate release: Wednesday, November 1, 2023
Contact: April Ezzell, (716) 449-1620
1199SEIU Communications Coordinator
Negotiations Set to Resume Thursday With Federal Mediator At Bargaining Table
New York State Assemblymember Meeks Calls on URMC To Settle Fair Agreement
Rochester, NY – Following multiple contract extensions, the collective bargaining agreement covering more than 1,800 service workers at University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) expired Tuesday. The unions issued a 10-day notice to URMC late Tuesday providing notice that workers will hold an informational picket on Monday, November 13 from 11:00AM to 2:30PM in front of URMC’s Emergency Department.
“It’s heartbreaking that we were unable to reach a fair agreement with URMC,” said Tina Hawkins, Sterile Processing Technician at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital. “I know we aren’t a minimum wage hospital, but it feels like the direction we are going in. Our committee is extremely disappointed because we hoped that URMC would have at least offered a fair agreement that we could take back to our members, but it feels like they failed us at the bargaining table,” said Hawkins.
“Many of us work extra shifts just to make ends meet, said Dana Allison, Patient Care Technician at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital. “We still don’t feel like we are treated equally and that’s why we are ready to picket. We don’t feel appreciated and now is our time to raise our voices to demand the respect we deserve,” said Allison.
The two unions and management remain at odds over living wage increases and quality benefits to recruit and retain more workers to provide care and services to the hospital and University.
The expired two-year contract comes after several months of negotiations, including 23 day- long bargaining sessions between 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, 200United SEIU and the University of Rochester Medical Center. Contract talks between the two unions and management began late August (8/22).
Contract talks are set to resume at the URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital on Thursday, November 2nd at 9:00 AM alongside a Federal Mediator from Federal Mediation Conciliation Services (FMCS).
The informational picket will be held Monday, November 13, 2023 from 11:00AM – 2:30PM outside the hospital’s Emergency Room at 601 Elmwood Avenue. The unions will host a press conference at 12:30PM that day.
Union members may participate in the informational picket on their own time, which means picketers will join the line before or after work or during their lunch break.
Union officials are encouraging the URMC community to walk alongside workers at the picket. “We aren’t just fighting for union members, we are fighting for those who may want to join a union in the future,” said Tracey Harrison, 1199SEIU Vice- President. “It’s about everyone who works at URMC because everyone deserves a voice in the workplace, a living wage and quality benefits that will help to improve staffing across the hospital system and campus,” said Harrison.
Workers represented by SEIU Local 200United at the University of Rochester include Building Services, Dining Services, Porters, Cooks, Stack Attendants – Library, Catering Service Assistants, Bus Drivers, Truck Drivers, and Stockkeepers.
Caregivers represented by 1199SEIU at Strong Memorial Hospital include Environmental Service Workers, Nursing Assistants, Cooks, Food Service Workers, Dietary Workers, Dental Assistants, Drivers, Patient Care Technicians, Materials Processing Specialists, Patient Unity Secretaries, Porters, Stockkeepers, Transport Assistants, Transportation Center Workers, Truck Drivers, and Unit Support Assistants.
“These frontline workers deserve improved wages and benefits that reflect the value of their hard work, putting the welfare of others before themselves everyday,” said Assemblymember Demond Meeks. “Just as the workers of the U of R leave home to care for the families of this community, they deserve to be able to provide for their own loved ones as well,” said Meeks.
Patient caregivers and service workers employed at Strong Memorial Hospital are represented by 1199SEIU, United Healthcare Workers East, and service workers at the University of Rochester are represented by 200United SEIU. Both unions have been working together to negotiate one agreement that includes fair wage increases that respect the high level of service and support provided throughout the hospital and campus. Better wages and a quality comprehensive benefit package will also help to retain and recruit more workers and alleviate staffing concerns across URMC.
A family of three (with one child) where both adults are working must earn $19.16 per hour or more to earn a living wage in Monroe County.1 At URMC, the state’s sixth largest employer and the largest employer in Rochester, hundreds of caregivers and service workers are earning considerably less while top leaders are earning millions.
University of Rochester must do better by its workers to provide a living wage that helps to recruit and retain workers into sustainable long term healthcare jobs amid shortages across the state. URMC leaders must factor in the cost of healthcare, transportation, childcare and other needs workers must have in place to maintain their employment and care for their families. Care team workers who ensure the health & safety of patients and students in our community earning less than a living wage include nursing assistants, environmental service workers, cashiers, caterers, food service workers, and nutrition assistants.
This month, 98.5% of voting union members at URMC voted in favor of giving their bargaining committee the authority to issue a 10-day notice for an informational picket should workers not be able to reach an agreement. The labor dispute at Rochester’s largest employer is not the first in the area. The public labor dispute with URMC comes as Nurses at Rochester General recently ratified a 42-month agreement, averting a second strike over wages and staffing.2
URMC has spent millions purchasing buildings & increasing salaries for its top leaders as caregivers and service workers fight for a living wage. Since 2020, University of Rochester and its affiliates have invested more than $74 million dollars in real estate purchases including College Town3. In 2021, during the COVID pandemic, URMC’s top leaders earned sizeable salaries ranging from $543,000 to $3.3 million dollars per year (including deferred compensation).4 It’s time that URMC invest in workers who provide the care and services that keep our hospital and campus community healthy.
With top leaders earning so much, even the lowest paid worker at URMC deserves to earn a living wage that allows them to provide for themselves and their families. “As a 34-year employee, I want to feel respected for the hard work we do” said Wendell Broadhurst, Environmental Services Work Leader at URMC’s River Campus. “It’s time that all workers get the dignity and respect they deserve on the job and we won’t settle for less,” said Broadhurst.
“Investing in workers and providing a living wage is critical to ensuring that we have enough staff to provide a high level of patient care and student services to our community,” said Tracey Harrison, 1199SEIU Vice-President for Rochester Corning. “Staffing is a concern across the hospital and campus. URMC must invest more in retaining and recruiting workers,” said Harrison.
Last month, members from both labor unions participated in Meliora Weekend events to let the public know about their contract dispute. Hundreds of URMC alumnae and supporters signed an online public petition demanding that URMC agree to a fair contract settlement for its workers.
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest and fastest-growing healthcare union in America. We represent over 400,000 nurses and caregivers throughout Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Florida. Our mission is to achieve quality care and good jobs for all.
SEIU Local 200United, a union of thousands of members who are working people striving for fair and just workplaces and communities. We represent two million members in New York, Vermont, and Pennsylvania in the public and private sector. www.seiu200united.org
1 Living Wage Calculator - Living Wage Calculation for Rochester, NY (mit.edu)
2 Five-day RGH nurses strike averted: Tentative deal reached on union contract | WHAM (13wham.com)
3 University of Rochester purchases College Town : News Center
4 University Of Rochester - Full Filing- Nonprofit Explorer - ProPublica