1199SEIU Members at Columbia Memorial Hospital Shine the Light on Quality Care and Good Jobs at Candlelight Vigil

March 27, 2016

“Maintaining and improving quality care and protecting the local economy are goals around which everyone should agree.”

Despite a mild winter in Hudson, N.Y., the evening of March 23 was chilly when more than a hundred 1199SEIU members at Columbia Memorial Hospital (CMH), the city’s largest employer, turned out for a candlelight vigil. The healthcare workers, who are RNs, direct caregivers, professional & technical workers and service & maintenance employees have been trying to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement with the hospital for the last 6 months, to no avail. Their proposals are based on the guiding principles of quality care and good jobs.

•There is an unquestionable connection between healthcare workers who can take care of themselves and their families at home and who are respected on the job --- and quality patient care. All CMH patients and Hudson residents who count on the hospital for healthcare services, deserve no less than the best care possible.

•When healthcare workers have good, stable, union jobs with livable wages and affordable benefits, local economies prosper. That's because caregivers and their families are able to pay the bills and also have money left over to enjoy what their communities offer in retail, recreation, and entertainment.

Patient Care Assistant (PCA) Ruth Snow, who held a candle for 3 hours at the vigil outside of the hospital said, “Maintaining and improving quality care and protecting the local economy are goals around which everyone should agree. Why can't Columbia Memorial Hospital agree to that? These issues are important to everyone, so the community deserves to know what’s at stake. That’s why we had a public vigil.”

The 1199 negotiating committee said that while there is tentative agreement on many sections of the contract, there are still some outstanding issues with broad implications that need to be resolved. That includes wages and benefits, the heart of most union contract negotiations. Even though the 1199 committee has noted many times in the course of negotiations that it is reasonable and not unusual for a healthcare employer to provide decent wages and affordable health benefits to caregivers, the hospital is maintaining its proposal with health benefits that are unaffordable. For many, the plan would be so expensive, it could wipe out any wage increases. Others could be forced to apply for public assistance, creating unnecessary taxpayer costs.

The 1199SEIU RNs, who are well regarded for their commitment to quality patient care and the community, have brought to the table their concerns about patient care and safety. The nurses’ proposal for RN to patient ratios would guarantee there are enough nurses available to meet patient needs, while ensuring that nurses are not required to work long hours to the point of fatigue. It would also help recruit and retain nurses who excel in their profession. The hospital has not agreed to this proposal or the RNs' concerns regarding how best to address on-the-job safety issues.

Other 1199 proposals that still need to be resolved address the insecurity caused by ongoing mergers, acquisitions, affiliations and subcontracting in the healthcare industry. With so many unknowns, 1199 members are standing up for peace of mind for workers and patients, noting that a healthcare institution staffed by employees who suffer low morale or who are anxious about their job status and livelihoods, cannot meet its mission of providing quality care.

Negotiations will resume on Monday, March 28.

Photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/137746361@N07/sets/72157664142437333