Union Patient Caregivers & Service Workers Return to Work Following Historic 17-Hour Strike YesterdayDecember 14, 2023
Press Release: Thursday, December 14, 2023
Contact: April Ezzell, (716) 449-1620, 1199SEIU Communications
Press Conference Video & Photos: URMC Strike 12132023
More than 1,200 Union Workers walked at strike at the largest private sector employer in Upstate New York to demand a living wage and quality comprehensive benefits to help retain and recruit more workers and to uplift some workers out of poverty.
Striking Workers Joined By NYS Senator Jeremy Cooney, NYS Assemblymember Harry Bronson, and NYS Assemblymember Demond Meeks, NYS Assemblymember Jen Lunsford, City Council Members, County Legislators, Labor Unions, Graduate Student Workers, and Community Supporters
Rochester, NY – Yesterday, more than 1,200 patient caregivers and service workers at URMC and University of Rochester attended a 17-hour strike and protest of unfair labor practices outside URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital’s Emergency Room in Rochester, New York. Workers are represented by 1199SEIU and SEIU Local 200 United. Following the historic strike, union members resumed their regular work schedules at 11:00 PM last night.
Two unions representing caregivers and service workers at University of Rochester Medical Center’s (URMC) Strong Memorial Hospital and University of Rochester River Campus hit the strike line (12/13) to demand living wages, quality benefits and dignity and respect. Fair living wage increases would uplift some out of poverty and a quality comprehensive benefits package would help recruit and retain more workers to help with staffing issues.
Staffing concerns are an issue at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital. As a level one trauma center1, proper staffing is key to quality care and timely services for patients. Without living wages and benefits, it is very difficult to recruit staff to fill vacancies and to keep workers there.
Senator Jeremy Cooney addressed striking workers calling for a living wage in city of Rochester and Monroe County2. “We know that 48% of children in this city live below the Federal poverty line, and that is unacceptable. We have to do better, and one way we can do that is by raising wages. We need a living wage for all families across this city and across this state. You are the ambassadors to help us do that. We stand with you in solidarity and thank you for the sacrifice and service you give to the people of Rochester,” said Senator Cooney.
“I’m out here today because we need proper wages to live. The economy is very high and they failed to give us proper wages – we ask that you do what’s right, so we can take care of ourselves and our families the way we are supposed to,” said Walter Balkum, Jr, Environmental Service Worker for University of Rochester’s River Campus.
“We are sticking together to fight for the same cause,” said Percy Jackson, Porter in Food & Nutrition at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital. “I work 60-70 hours a week just to pay my bills and maintain my family. A living wage would really help my family,” said Jackson.
“Today was a historic day for all workers in Rochester,” said Tracey Harrison, 1199SEIU Vice-President. “They are standing up for what they deserve. We thank everyone who turned out for the strike today – members, elected officials, allies, and community supporters. With the overwhelming support shown from our community, we know that our members are willing to go the distance to win the living wages, benefits and respect they deserve,” said Harrison.
The union also filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that URMC failed to bargain in good faith when they did not return to the bargaining table with a counter proposal on wages several weeks ago. In a near unanimous vote last month3, 99% of voting members were in favor of a calling the 17-hour strike. This strike likely cost URMC, the largest private sector employer in Upstate a great deal of money and workers went without pay today to fight for a living wage and quality benefits.
A family of three (with one child) where both adults are working must earn $19.16 per hour or more to earn a living wage in Monroe County.4 At URMC, the state’s sixth largest employer and the largest employer in Rochester, hundreds of caregivers and service workers are earning considerably less while top leaders are earning millions.
University of Rochester must do better by its workers to provide a living wage that helps to recruit and retain workers into sustainable long term healthcare jobs amid shortages across the state. URMC leaders must factor in the cost of healthcare, transportation, childcare and other needs workers must have in place to maintain their employment and care for their families. Care team workers who ensure the health & safety of patients and students in our community earning less than a living wage include nursing assistants, environmental service workers, cashiers, caterers, food service workers, and nutrition assistants.
URMC has spent millions purchasing buildings & increasing salaries for its top leaders as caregivers and service workers fight for a living wage. Since 2020, University of Rochester and its affiliates have invested more than $74 million dollars in real estate purchases including College Town5. In 2021, during the COVID pandemic, URMC’s top leaders earned sizeable salaries ranging from $543,000 to $3.3 million dollars per year (including deferred compensation).6 It’s time that URMC invest in workers who provide the care and services that keep our hospital and campus community healthy.
With top leaders earning so much, even the lowest paid worker at URMC deserves to earn a living wage that allows them to provide for themselves and their families. “As a 34-year employee, I want to feel respected for the hard work we do” said Wendell Broadhurst, Environmental Services Work Leader at URMC’s River Campus. “It’s time that all workers get the dignity and respect they deserve on the job and we won’t settle for less,” said Broadhurst.
Following multiple extensions, the contract covering URMC patient caregivers and service workers expired October 31. As tensions continued to escalate, workers held a massive informational picket7 and rally on November 13 and a strike authorization vote on November 21. To date, two unions have been negotiating on behalf of 1,800 workers since late August (8/22). Both sides returned to bargaining yesterday for their 31st session, ending without a deal.
Bedside caregivers and patient service workers at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital are represented by 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East. Service workers at URMC’s River Campus are represented by SEIU Local 200 United.
In a signed letter to University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf, Rochester City Council members said: “Amid growing shortages and consistently full capacities at hospitals, our community cannot afford to lose these crucial team members due to insufficient wages and benefits.”
Political support for caregivers and service workers is growing. In addition to the Rochester City Council letter, Monroe County Legislators sent a letter to University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf saying in part: “Providing front-line workers higher wages will also make URMC more competitive in the recruitment and retention of the workers needed to run facilities and ensure optimal staffing levels. Amid growing staffing shortages and stretched capacity at hospitals, our community cannot afford to lose these crucial team members due to insufficient wages and benefits.”
“The sacrifices and hard work of our front-line employees deserve to be adequately compensated with a wage that reflects the rising cost of living,” said New York State Assemblymember Demond Meeks. “I continue to urge the University of Rochester Medical Center, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and 200United SEIU to work collaboratively to settle a fair contract that recognizes the invaluable service of its many essential workers. Our largest employers have the responsibility to take the lead on providing living wages for our residents and families,” said Meeks.
Last month, the unions filed Unfair Labor Practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that URMC violated Federal Labor Laws when they failed to bargain in good faith. “This employer failed its workers and our community by not returning with a counter proposal. Their failure to bargain in good faith has forced us to issue the 10-day notice. Beyond the money, it’s a matter of respect for the workers who provide healthcare and student services to this community,” said Tracey Harrison, 1199SEIU Vice-President.
“It feels like they want us to work more for less money,” said Dana Allison, Patient Care Technician at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital. “My job requires patience and understanding to provide care for the patients as they recover from surgery. Many people come in and they are nervous about their procedure, and I reassure them and their family, but sometimes if we are short that special attention can’t be given because we have so many other tasks to complete to keep surgeries flowing for the day,” said Allison.
To date, both sides held 31 day-long bargaining sessions only agreeing to non-economics. 1199SEIU, SEIU Local 200 and URMC are at odds over living wages. As the largest private sector employer in Upstate8, and the sixth largest in the state, URMC has a responsibility to pay workers a living wage and to uplift its workers from poverty.
“The rents in the city are so high. I went from paying $800 per month to $1,200 per month and it takes a full months’ worth of paychecks, said Julie Clough, Courier for Clinical Labs. “After rent is paid, I have only a little left to pay other bills and to eat. Right now, I work full-time but I live paycheck to paycheck, and I worry if I have enough food to eat,” said Clough.
The labor dispute at URMC, Rochester’s largest employer is not the first in the area. The public labor dispute with URMC comes as Nurses at Rochester General recently ratified a 42-month agreement, averting a second strike over wages and staffing.9
More recently, URMC graduate workers joined a growing trend across the country10 to begin organizing to form their union. “As a graduate worker at University of Rochester, I have faced serious financial uncertainty,” said Justin Grossman, Graduate Student Association President. “I’ve struggled to pay my bills and at one point didn’t even know if I was going to be able to keep my apartment. That’s why we are joining with campus workers from SEIU to demand increased wages and union rights for all,” said Grossman.
Workers represented by SEIU Local 200United at the University of Rochester include Building Services, Dining Services, Porters, Cooks, Stack Attendants – Library, Catering Service Assistants, Bus Drivers, Truck Drivers, and Stockkeepers.
Patient caregivers and service workers represented by 1199SEIU at Strong Memorial Hospital include Environmental Service Workers, Nursing Assistants, Cooks, Food Service Workers, Dietary Workers, Dental Assistants, Drivers, Patient Care Technicians, Materials Processing Specialists, Patient Unity Secretaries, Porters, Stockkeepers, Transport Assistants, Transportation Center Workers, Truck Drivers, and Unit Support Assistants.
In October, members from both labor unions participated in Meliora Weekend events to let the public know about their contract dispute. Hundreds of URMC alumnae and supporters signed an online public petition demanding that URMC agree to a fair contract settlement for its workers.
1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East is the largest and fastest-growing healthcare union in America. We represent over 400,000 nurses and caregivers throughout Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Florida. Our mission is to achieve quality care and good jobs for all.
SEIU Local 200United, a union of thousands of members who are working people striving for fair and just workplaces and communities. We represent two million members in New York, Vermont, and Pennsylvania in the public and private sector.
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