Patient Caregivers & Student Service Workers Hold Strike Authorization Vote Tuesday As Labor Tensions Escalate With Largest Private Sector Employer in State, URMC In Demand For Living Wages, Improved Staffing, And Quality Benefits To Lift Some Low Wage Earners Out of PovertyNovember 20, 2023
Negotiations end abruptly today as NYS Senator Brouk urges leaders to avoid strike.
URMC & its affiliates spend millions on buildings and salaries for its top leaders while some workers experience extreme hardship.
URMC could spend an exorbitant amount of money on replacement workers in a potential strike.
Rochester, NY – Union caregivers and service workers at University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Strong Memorial Hospital and River Campus will hold a strike authorization vote Tuesday following a massive informational picket1 outside of the emergency room last week. Caregivers and service workers are fighting for a fair contract from the largest private sector employer in Upstate that includes fair living wage increases uplifting some out of poverty and a quality comprehensive benefits package to help recruit and retain more workers to help with staffing issues.
WHO: Union Caregivers & Service Workers at URMC
WHAT: Strike Authorization Vote
WHEN: Tuesday, November 21, 2023 from 6:00 AM until 4:30 PM
MEDIA VISUAL & INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITY 11:15 AM
INTERVIEW OPPORTUNITY VOTE RESULTS at 5:15 PM
WHERE: St. Anne’s RC Church, 1600 Mount Hope Ave, Rochester, NY 14620
WHY?: Following a contract expiration October 31, a massive informational picket and rally, more than 1,800 patient caregivers and service workers at University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) could be on the strike line soon. To date, two unions have been negotiating on behalf of 1,800 workers since late August. Both sides held 28 day-long bargaining sessions only agreeing to non-economics. 1199SEIU, SEIU Local 200 and URMC are at odds over living wages. As the largest private sector employer in Upstate2, and the sixth largest in the state, URMC has a responsibility to pay workers a living wage - uplifting workers from poverty.
“The rents in the city are so high. I went from paying $800 per month to $1,200 per month and it takes a full months’ worth of paychecks, said Julie Clough, Courier for Clinical Labs. “After rent is paid, I have only a little left to pay other bills and to eat. Right now, I work full-time but I live paycheck to paycheck, and I worry if I have enough food to eat,” said Clough.
Staffing concerns are an issue at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital. As a level one trauma center3, proper staffing is key to quality care and timely services for patients. Without living wages and benefits, it is very difficult to recruit staff to fill vacancies and to keep workers there.
“Working short in our department causes a lot of tension because we can’t do our jobs providing the quality care we want to give,” said Arleata Robin White, Patient Care Technician at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital.
Union members will hold a strike authorization vote Tuesday to determine whether they will strike the largest private sector employer for up to 2 days in a continued fight for a living wage to help retain and recruit more workers. A two-day strike could potentially cost the largest private sector employer in the state hundreds of thousands of dollars per day.
“I’m proud to stand with members of 1199SEIU & 200 United as negotiations continue toward a fair contract,” said NYS Senator Samra Brouk. “These workers are an essential component of healthcare in this region. We all have a vested interest in avoiding a strike, and I encourage all parties to continue negotiating in good faith,” said Brouk.
The labor dispute at URMC, 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.4
More recently, URMC graduate workers joined a growing trend across the country5 to begin organizing to form their union. “As a graduate worker at University of Rochester, I have faced serious financial uncertainty,” said Justin Grossman, Graduate Student Association President. “I’ve struggled to pay my bills and at one point didn’t even know if I was going to be able to keep my apartment. That’s why we are joining with campus workers from SEIU to demand increased wages and union rights for all,” said Grossman.
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.
Patient caregivers and service workers 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.
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.6 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.
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 Town7. 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).8 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.
In October, 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.