August 22, 2019

Strong contracts prove that united workers can still win.


It's a fact that in a lot of places labor is struggling. But 1199ers continue to prove with contract victories that organized workers can win by staying the course and taking the fight to the boss.

After a protracted contract battle that brought hundreds of 1199ers from around New York to the doorstep of Long Island Community Hospital (LICH) in Patchogue, NY on March 13, workers at the Suffolk County institution have settled a strong, three-year contract.

The agreement, settled in late June, includes coverage under the National Benefit Fund, base wage increases totaling 10%, significant minimum increases for all classifications, and protection of all jobs and working conditions when an upcoming merger with Stony Brook Medical Center is completed.

“It was an arduous battle, but we did exceptionally well,” said negotiating committee member Cristine Crane. “After working at this facility for over 25 years I was ecstatic to be part of the team that led us to an outstanding victory.”

LICH workers voted last year to join 1199, despite management’s fierce anti-union campaign. And after the organizing win, bosses continued their intransigence through subsequent contract talks. The negotiations tide turned with a March informational picket that brought hundreds of 1199ers to Patchogue and publicly highlighted LICH management’s treatment of workers.

The action shifted management’s perspective, say workers. Talks took on a more serious, purposeful tone.

“Nothing is handed to you. You have to fight for it,” said negotiating committee member Craig Bontempi.

“We came together as one and stared adversity in the face. We overcame the odds, broke down barriers, and achieved things we were told would never happen.”

At nearly the same time, a group of similarly struggling Massachusetts nursing home workers won a new contract. After months of stalled talks, a strike notice, and community advocacy, workers at Saugus Care and Rehabilitation Center in Saugus, MA settled a new, four-year collective bargaining agreement in June.

“We are proud of the work we do, and this agreement is an important step that will ensure we can continue to provide the type of quality care families and residents rely upon,” said Eddy Pierre, CNA at Saugus Care and Rehabilitation Center. “From the start of this process, we have advocated for ourselves and our residents, and we look forward to continuing our work in this crucial industry.”

Saugus Care is an 80-bed facility that employs about 60 1199SEIU members as CNAs, dietary technicians, LPNs and in other positions. Saugus workers’ new contract, settled June 19, features a wage increase, strong severance and successorship language, and the protection of paid meal breaks. Ownership had previously proposed making workers’ 30-minute meal break unpaid in January, which would have equaled a 6.25% wage cut. The last contract at Saugus expired on October 31, 2018.

“ We overcame the odds, broke down barriers, and achieved things we were told would never happen.”

– Craig Bontempi Negotiating Committee Member

After talks stalled, workers submitted a strike notice in June. Member mobilization and advocacy by elected officials and the community helped convince management to return to the bargaining table and commit to reaching a fair contract. The victory follows a sale and management change at Saugus, and a major effort by Massachusetts 1199ers to create additional oversight and funding that ensures quality and reliable care for nursing homes.

“The dedicated employees at Saugus Care and Rehabilitation Center deserve wages that allow them to care for their own families, and I’m pleased that this contract provides a wage increase and other benefits,” said Massachusetts State Senator Brendan Crighton. “Quality, affordable and reliable nursing home care is vital to our community, and this contract is an important step for employees and local families.”

Also, in June, 1199 members at Rite Aid Pharmacies across New York and New Jersey won a new three-year contract that includes wage increases.

Coverage under the 1199 Pension Fund, Training and Upgrading Fund and Child Care Funds remains intact. Retaining coverage under the 1199SEIU Pension Fund became a central bargaining point, with workers holding the line on retirement protection. Rite Aid also wanted 1199 members to start paying for generic medications. Bargaining committee members decided that was a step too far in contract talks and drew a line in the sand. Negotiating committee members stressed 1199’s history as a union that was formed by pharmacists to build unity and strength for the fight to protect affordable health care, fair wages and pensions. Management and the bargaining committee eventually found compromise, agreeing to no co-pays for generic medicines and a minimal cost for preferred and non-preferred brands. Workers also preserved no cost visits to primary doctors and won 2% wage increases for each year of the three-year contract.

Saiman Tam, a pharmacist in Rite Aid’s flagship Manhattan store said the contract was a win for working families.

“I have a family with three children who all depend on our affordable healthcare plan,” said Tam. “It was important to me to fight for their future.”

And on July 10, after months of tense negotiations, healthcare workers at Buffalo, NY’s Kaleida Health System reached a three-year tentative agreement. Kaleida workers are represented by 1199, CWA Local 1168 and IUOE Local 17. The three-union pact covers some 7,200 workers at Kaleida institutions throughout the Buffalo-Niagara Region. Prior to the settlement, Kaleida workers were preparing for a system-wide informational picket.

Jamel Gibbs, an environmental services worker at Oishei Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, said the new contract recognizes workers’ importance in quality patient care. “We are the first line of defense against infection and cross contamination in the hospital, and we deserve a secure retirement for a lifetime of service.”

At press time, ratification votes for all four agreements were under way.

- 1199 Magazine | July / August 2019