Victory for Rochester Members

February 15, 2024

One day strike in Upstate New York leads to landmark deal.

Victory for Rochester Members 01 1,000 healthcare union members in Rochester, New York, have signed a groundbreaking new contract, including wage increases of up to 18% over the three-year term. 1199ers joined forces with SEIU Local 200United to ratify the deal with University of Rochester Medical Center after holding a massive informational picket and historic 17-hour strike.

“The last strike at this hospital was back in the mid-Seventies,” says Shariff Hill, an 1199 Cook and Chief Delegate in the Hospital’s Food and Nutrition Department.

“The only reason we voted to authorize a strike this time around was that the employer refused to pay us a living wage. The things we go through here, day in and day out…they called us heroes during the pandemic, but sitting at the bargaining table they treated us like commodities.

“We came at them head-on with a one-day strike. But it took the threat of another 72-hour strike to really move them at the table.” After members took the second strike vote, negotiations finally took a turn and bargaining ran late into the night.

Hill adds, “They needed to see a show of strength. Members were fed up not making what we should be making. Too many of us are living paycheck to paycheck, barely putting groceries on the table. Members are having to decide whether to put gas in the car or feed their kids. We were asking ourselves: ‘Why should I risk my health for an employer who just doesn’t care for me?’”

1199 Delegate Robin White—another member of the bargaining committee and a Patient Care Technician at Strong Memorial Hospital—says, “The improvements we won for workers in this contract will improve the lives our union members and their families. It will also attract more workers to fill vacancies reducing our heavy workload.”

Victory for Rochester Members 02

Starting pay for new hires will be $17 per-hour by December 31, and workers will reach $18.38 per-hour at start of the third year.

As well as wage improvements, members also won job upgrades, maintained their no-cost healthcare, and increased their childcare benefits and training pay.

“Covid played a huge part in our deciding to strike,” says April Shepherd, an 1199 Patient Care Tech who’s worked at UMRC for 21 years, and served on the bargaining committee as a Delegate.

“Traveling PCTs were making much more than we were. Management is trying to eliminate the union by not filling PCT vacancies. Agency staff do not get benefits, so even though they are paid more, it is cheaper overall for management to go that route.

“We all now walk in the door at a certain dollar amount. I got a 12 percent raise. I’m studying to be an LPN, so I’m doing fewer hours. The pay increase means that I will not lose money.”

Shepherd adds, “We used to have 400 PCT members and that has whittled down to just 200 over the past eight years. On my unit we used to have ten techs then we were down to two and our manager was forced to hire a third. Some units are now forced to work without any PCTs at all.”

Hari Kadariya, an 1199 Environmental Service member, who joined the bargaining committee for the first time, says the hospital “should have signed a contract based on our proposals.

“So many other jobs in Rochester pay more than $20 per-hour as a starting salary,” the mother of three who is now pregnant with her fourth child says. “The hospital hasn’t been able to find employees. We cannot raise our families on just $15 per hour. We did not want to strike, but they forced us into it.”