Hudson Valley Workers Build Union Strength

June 7, 2019

Some of the 925 workers at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, NY who joined 1199SEIU this spring.

New collective bargaining agreements at Vassar Brothers Medical Center and Orange Regional Medical Center are a demonstration of increasing worker power in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Vassar Brothers Medical Center’s main campus in Poughkeepsie, NY has been home to a sizeable 1199SEIU bargaining unit since the 1980s. More recently, Vassar Brothers workers continued to lead by example with a new contract, signed in May, that covers the institution’s OR schedulers as well as workers from Vassar’s Heart Center, DRA Imaging, and HealthQuest laboratory, for a total of more than 925 new 1199 members. The agreement includes annual raises and full coverage under the 1199SEIU National Benefit and Pension, Training and Upgrading, and Job Security Funds. Cheryl Harrison, a front desk rep at DRA Imaging, was not going to waste any time using her new benefits.

“I’m planning to use the Training Fund immediately. It’s never too late, and I’ve always wanted to be an X-ray tech,” said Harrison.

Sheila Ennist, a Vassar PCT and a longtime 1199 delegate, says the contracts improve lives while opening the door to organizing for more healthcare workers “We want to ensure that everyone at Vassar and in our region has the benefits that come with being an 1199 member,” said Ennist.

Union membership and strength are also growing farther north, on the sprawling campus of Orange Regional Medical Center (ORMC), which is now part of the Greater Hudson Valley Health System. Formed a decade ago by the merger of Arden Hill Hospital and Horton Medical Center, today’s ORMC is part of the Greater Hudson Valley Health System (GHVHS). The institution includes ORMC’s main Middletown campus, Catskill Regional Medical Center’s (CRMC) Harris and Callicoon campuses, and several outpatient facilities. GHVHS workers also settled a landmark collective bargaining agreement in May.

During contract talks, members continued to push management with walk-ins, purple days and the formation of United GHVHS. Those efforts eventually helped win an agreement that includes three percent raises, increased minimums and coverage under the 1199SEIU Training and Child Care Funds. Longtime 1199 members at ORMC and CRMC maintained existing coverage under the 1199SEIU National Benefit and Pension Fund, while new members at the institution’s outpatient clinics won major improvements to their current healthcare coverage and a contract provision to negotiate coverage under the 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund in 2022. ORMC Lab Technologist Maria Biblis was happy with the new agreement, adding that the spirit goes well beyond what’s on paper.

“As 1199 members, my co-workers and I finally got the administration to understand how critical our work is,” said Biblis. “I feel like they value our work now, and they proved that by increasing minimum rates and professional steps, to help recruit and retain staff.”

- 1199 Magazine: May / June 2019