Determined St. Mary’s Workers Fight for Contract in Shadow of New Hospital Pavilion

October 16, 2012

St. Mary’s Hospital for Children in Bayside, Queens opened a sparkling new $114 million patient pavilion on September 27. And on the same day St. Mary’s workers held a rally to tell management to settle a fair contract. St. Mary’s workers have been struggling to win an agreement since voting overwhelmingly for 1199SEIU representation in August and September of 2011.

“It was my first rally,” said Alex Mirasol, an RN at St. Mary’s for seven years. “A lot of the nurses went out on their breaks to show their support. I think it really did wake up the community.”

As invited guests, including elected officials and St. Mary’s patient family members, mingled inside the new pavilion, scores of 1199SEIU members and concerned citizens rallied outside, calling on celebrants to support the caregivers.

St. Mary’s workers care for chronically ill and disabled children, many of whom are there from birth and spend their entire lives at the institution. In elections in fall 2011, the hospital’s 230 LPNs and service and maintenance workers and 90 RNs voted overwhelmingly for representation by 1199SEU. They have been trying to negotiate with management for a fair contract ever since.

“We knew going into bargaining that we wouldn’t get everything we were asking for, but we hoped we’d be able to get something that feels like progress,” said Mirasol. “But now they’ve taken everything off the table. It’s becoming a game with them and they’re playing with people’s livelihoods.”

St. Mary’s administration claims the hospital can’t afford workers’ salaries and benefits. Workers say the bosses are stonewalling and point out that the Union had to file Unfair Labor Practice charges against management for refusing to turn over complete financial records during negotiations.

“They’re blaming the economy for not paying our salaries and benefits,” said Mirasol. “When this CEO first came in we thought he was sincere in improving the situation, but now it feels like them against us. Before it felt like home – the atmosphere had that family feeling. It hasn’t been here for a while now. It’s really a shame.”

Mirasol said that all the workers want is the ability to take care of themselves and their families, so they can continue to do the important work of caring for St. Mary’s patients.

“Management thinks that at the end of the day this will all just work out,” said Mirasol. “But it works out because of the workers’ dedication. The kids need us every day to take care of them.”

Patients’ families and elected officials have publicly voiced their support for St. Mary’s workers. Members of the hospital’s new Family Council have spoken with Union members and New York City Councilmember David Weprin called on the institution to end their stonewalling and do the right thing for the workers.

“I’m delighted the new building is opening, but we have to keep in mind that’s because of the men and women who work there that make it possible,” Weprin told the Bayside Douglaston Patch, a community news website. “We have to be fair to the workers and come to an agreement.